Biosciences Initiative invests $45M in U-M research

Three ground-breaking LSI projects have been selected to be funded in the first round of investments from the University of Michigan's Biosciences Initiative.

These projects are among the five large projects and four smaller ones, totaling up to $45 million, that will be funded this fiscal year through the presidential initiative, which aims to create globally leading biosciences research programs focused on solving critical problems.

The two large LSI projects are:

  • “Expanding Natural Products Drug Discovery at the University of Michigan,” principal investigator David H. Sherman, Life Sciences Institute and College of Pharmacy; co-principal investigator Ashootosh Tripathi, LSI and College of Pharmacy. Sherman has created a unique natural products discovery program based on the collection of about 5,000 microbial strains and the integration of some 40,000 microbial extracts into a high-throughput screening laboratory available to all U-M investigators. The new funding will enable recruitment of three new faculty and create a natural products discovery core laboratory to identify bioactive metabolites. This initiative will also provide the synthetic biology and microbial engineering needed to optimize active compounds as discovery tools and for potential drug development.
  • “From Cells to Atoms — The future of Cryo-Electron Microscopy at the University of Michigan,” principal investigators Janet Smith, Melanie Ohi and Michael Cianfrocco of the Life Sciences Institute and the Medical School. Cryo-electron microscopy, which uses electrons to visualize frozen samples, is quickly becoming the go-to technique for structural biologists, and U-M was an early adopter of the technology. The new funding will enable the university to become an international leader in the field and a premiere destination for cryo-EM education. Among other things, the funding will help U-M researchers expand their ability to visualize molecular machines inside intact cells using a developing approach called cryo-electron tomography.

The LSI will also participate in one of the four projects receiving exploratory funding grants of $100,000: “Establishing the U-M re-targeting discovery platform,” principal investigator Jonathan Sexton, Medical School.

In this round alone, we were able to fund proposals serving investigators in every U-M school and college in the biosciences. These new programs address critical problems of incredible diversity
Roger Cone, Ph.D.

In addition to the roughly $45 million in funding provided to the nine projects through the presidential initiative, $6.7 million will be contributed by the researchers’ home departments, schools, colleges, institutes and centers.

“I’m really pleased by the amazing breadth of science and the transdisciplinary nature of the funded proposals,” said Roger Cone, vice provost and director of the Biosciences Initiative, and director of the Life Sciences Institute. “In this round alone, we were able to fund proposals serving investigators in every U-M school and college in the biosciences.

“These new programs address critical problems of incredible diversity, from measuring global biological change to improving rural health care delivery to developing the technology for high-resolution imaging of molecules inside living cells,” said Cone, who also chairs the 16-member Biosciences Initiative Coordinating Committee that reviewed and ranked the proposals.

Biosciences Initiative research grants will be awarded annually through fiscal year 2022, and all Ann Arbor campus faculty are eligible to participate. Letters of intent for the next round are due in April 2019.

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By Jim Erickson

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This article is excerpted from the original announcement by Jim Erickson in The University Record.