The Searle Scholars Program makes grants to selected universities and research centers to support the independent research of exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences and chemistry who have recently been appointed as assistant professors on a tenure-track appointment. Members of each new class of Searle Scholars pursue ground-breaking research in the biomedical sciences. Each receives an award of $300,000 in flexible funding to support their work over the next three years.
Mukherjee’s lab studies how bacterial responses to self-generated and environmental stimuli influence their survival, persistence in particular niches, and lifestyle transitions between individual and collective behaviors. How the information encoded in multiple sensory inputs is extracted and integrated to control collective behaviors in bacteria, however, is largely mysterious.
For example, light is a ubiquitous environmental stimulus and photoreceptors have been well-studied in the context of photosynthetic organisms, the function of photosystems in non-photosynthetic bacteria are mostly unknown. Mukherjee’s lab has identified an entire photo-sensing cascade in the human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which has given them crucial insight into light-driven control of bacterial behaviors relevant to human disease. They are characterizing this pathogen’s photo-sensing signaling system to define the physiological role of light and explore the possibility of using light as an antibacterial therapeutic.
Bacteria also integrate varied sensory cues to make key behavioral transitions, however, the mechanisms by which they do so are poorly understood. Mukherjee’s team is also working to identify the molecular hubs that facilitate integration of information from different sensory signaling pathways to control bacterial behaviors. They are currently studying how photo-sensing, quorum-sensing, and nutrient-sensing cues are integrated into the regulation of collective behaviors.
Since 1981, 662 scientists have been named Searle Scholars. Including this year, the Program has awarded more than $147 million. Eighty-five Searle Scholars have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Twenty Scholars have been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, known as the “genius grant,” and two Searle Scholars have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
The Program supports high risk, high reward research across a broad range of scientific disciplines. It is funded through the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust and administered by Kinship Foundation.