The Paul Allen Family Foundation Appoints ICB Project Leader Michael Elowitz as an Allen Distinguished Investigator

Friday, April 11, 2014

The 2014 Allen Distinguished Investigator (ADI) grant recognizes and supports ICB Project Leader Dr. Michael Elowitz and Dr. Long Cai as one of three research teams in the field of human cell lineage—a central and urgent quest in the fields of biology and medicine. Human cell lineage is the story of how all of us grow from a single cell to 100 trillion cells as cells divide, die and renew to work together in the complex system that is the human body.

This field of study works to understand the process of cell division, renewal and death, as well as how cells in a developing embryo diversify into many distinct cell types. By knowing more about the progression through which a cell type is formed, we can uncover the mysteries of the process that causes diseases such as cancer. Single cell tracking methods – such as barcoding individual cells – will help to map and track the development of certain cells and the relationships and hierarchies that develop in the process. Overall, this research has the potential to profoundly impact science and push the boundaries of current knowledge.

Dr. Michael Elowitz, Professor of Biology, Bioengineering and Applied Physics; and Dr. Long Cai, Assistant Professor of Chemistry 
at the California Institute of Technology
 have won an award amount of $1 million for their project, Tracking Cell Fate Decisions in Single Cells.

Support from The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation will help Dr. Michael Elowitz and Dr. Long Cai develop a platform to extract lineage and molecular event histories from cells developing into tissues, particularly in the brain.

Through single-cell tracking and barcoding, Elowitz and Cai will be delving further into understanding the influence of genes acting together as “circuits” on cells, and how they allow cells to switch among distinct fates in a programmed fashion.

This research will help to address one of the most fascinating questions in biology – how individual cells in a developing embryo diversify into many distinct cell types, each playing its unique role in the organism.