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Forsyth Institute receives $5.4 million NIH award

October 19, 2017

Cambridge, Mass. — The Forsyth Institute announced Oct. 5 that researchers have received a $5.4 million award from the National Institutes of Health to pursue “revolutionary research” of microbes living in the mouth and body.

The NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award was awarded to lead Forsyth investigator Christopher Johnston, Ph.D., and colleagues and will be administered by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The institute believes the research “has the potential to accelerate work in diverse fields, including medicine, synthetic biology, agriculture and environmental sciences,” it said in a news release. 

The NIH Transformative Research Award is part of the agency’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, which supports “exceptionally innovative, unconventional, paradigm-shifting research projects that are inherently risky and untested.”

“This award will propel some truly game-changing research that promises to accelerate progress in oral health as well as numerous other fields,” said Wenyuan Shi, Ph.D., chief executive officer and chief scientific officer of the Forsyth Institute. “[Dr. Johnston’s] research is groundbreaking, and the Forsyth is deeply committed to supporting his development and encouraging other early-career investigators to emulate his achievements and success.”

According to Forsyth, the “limited genetic tractability of microbes is a significant problem” because “less than 1 percent of the bacterial species known today can be genetically modified in the laboratory.”

“One of the most pervasive challenges facing microbiology is that instead of focusing on the most interesting or even most important organisms, we tend to focus on the ones that work, that is to say, the ones that are amenable to genetic engineering,” Dr. Johnston said.