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Michael Jewett Receives DARPA Young Faculty Award

Michael Jewett, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, has received the Young Faculty Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the Department of Defense.

The DARPA Young Faculty Award program identifies and engages rising research stars in junior faculty positions at U.S. academic institutions and exposes them to Department of Defense needs as well as DARPA’s program development process.

With the award, Jewett aims to reconceptualize the way we engineer biology for producing next generation materials. These materials could find utility in personal protective gear, wound healing materials, and sophisticated electronics. To achieve this goal, Jewett plans to enable a new approach for engineering ribosomes (the cell’s factory for protein synthesis) in cell-free biological systems. Cell-free systems bypass cell walls and remove genetic regulation to get at the systems and catalytic machinery inside. Thus, Jewett’s approach removes the “overhead” of a cell and enables him to more easily manipulate it. Beyond new classes of biohybrid materials, Jewett’s work could result in a paradigm shift for materials research and discovery by harnessing one of the most salient features of biology—its ability to evolve—in search of novel materials.

Jewett, who joined the Northwestern faculty in 2009, has made marked contributions to the field of integrated systems biology and is a pioneer in the new field of synthetic biology. He is a member of Northwestern’s Chemistry of Life Processes Institute and of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

“This new paradigm for constructing biosynthetic functions without using intact cells will enable a deeper understanding of why nature’s designs work the way they do and will open the way to novel chemicals, sustainable fuels, and new tunable materials that have been impractical—if not impossible—to produce by other means,” he said.