Collins Named HHMI Investigator

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Professor Jim Collins (photo: Robert E. Klein/AP, © HHMI)
Professor Jim Collins (photo: Robert E. Klein/AP, © HHMI)

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute named Professor Jim Collins (BME) one of its new investigators today. He is one of 56 biomedical science researchers selected from among 1070 applicants from across the country.

Designation as HHMI investigators gives this elite group creative license to pursue novel, high risk avenues of research, with a total of more than $600 million awarded during their first 5-year term. Once established, investigators typically receive about $1 million per year.

“These 56 scientists will bring new and innovative ways of thinking about biology to the HHMI community,” said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president. “They are poised to advance scientific knowledge dramatically in the coming years, and we are committed to providing them with the freedom and flexibility to do so.”

The entering group will become part of the HHMI’s community of approximately 300 investigators at 64 institutions. The group includes 124 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 12 Nobel laureates.

Collins, Boston University’s first HHMI Investigator, said, “It certainly is a strong sign of acceptance and acknowledgement of the types of work that our lab is doing and will help as we continue our transition into molecular cell biology. I was touched at how excited and warm everybody was at HHMI. They are excited to have Boston University as part of the HHMI family and look to help us in whatever ways they can to help us move our research projects forward.”

Collins and his research team will pursue projects that try to get a closer look at happenings in single cells – how antibiotic resistance emerges and how the cell regulates gene expression. Another area he plans to investigate is the combination effects when two or more therapeutic agents, such as drugs or RNAi, are used together.

“We can go after cutting-edge, creative work that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to pursue because of the risk,” Collins said.

With this newly selected class of investigators, the HHMI broadened the scope of its research by adding scientists in fields that have not been strongly represented at HHMI, such as physics, chemistry and Collins’ study of synthetic and systems biology.

Collins’ research group has recently published research on a novel genetic toggle switch and a newly discovered, destructive molecular pathway in bacteria that underlies antibiotics’ mechanism of action.

Collins joined the BU faculty in 1990, after completing a doctoral degree in medical engineering at Oxford University and a bachelor’s degree in physics from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He has received many research and teaching accolades throughout his career, including his recent selection by the College of Engineering class of 2008 as their Outstanding Professor of the Year. He also won BU’s Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2000, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2003 and received an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award in 2007.

The HHMI, a non-profit biomedical research organization based in Chevy Chase, Md., conducts research in collaboration with many universities, medical centers and research institutions throughout the country and has approximately 300 HHMI investigators at 64 institutions.

Collins and the other new investigators will undergo reviews near the end of their initial 5-year term and have the potential to continue their careers as HHMI investigators indefinitely.

For more information, see the HHMI press release and profile of Jim Collins.