A Letter from the Chair

November 2, 2018
Dr. Bonnie Bassler leads the Board of Scientific Advisors

Caption: Dr. Bonnie Bassler. Photo Credit: Alena Soboleva


Hello JCC Fellows, Scientific Board Members, and Friends,

I am delighted to be the new Chair of the Board of Scientific Advisors (BSA). I look forward to meeting the current Fellows, learning their science, and working with my colleagues on the BSA. As a member of the BSA from 2009-2013, I found my duties on the Board thrilling, I learned new science across many disciplines, I enjoyed the collegiality, and I was inspired by JCC’s mandate to promote spectacular science to solve urgent biomedical problems with a focus on cancer. I am glad to be back.

Perhaps I can first tell you a bit about myself. I am a Professor and the Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. My group studies cell-to-cell communication in bacteria, a process called quorum sensing. Quorum sensing allows bacteria to measure changes in population density and species composition of the vicinal community, and in response to those changes, synchronize behavior on a population-wide scale. Processes controlled by quorum sensing are usually ones that are unproductive when undertaken by an individual bacterium acting alone but become effective when undertaken in unison by the group. For example, quorum sensing controls virulence factor production, biofilm formation, and the exchange of DNA. My group’s quorum-sensing investigations combine genetics, biochemistry, structural biology, chemistry, engineering, and modeling. We are working to understand intra- and inter-species communication, self versus non-self recognition, network design features for high-fidelity information transfer, and principles underlying population-level cooperation. Moreover, bacterial pathogens require quorum sensing for infection. An important practical aspect of our investigations is the development of anti-quorum-sensing therapies as alternatives to traditional antibiotics.

In addition to introducing myself, here I introduce you to four BSA members who have also joined the Board this year:

  • Sue Biggins, member of the Basic Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, investigates molecular mechanisms underlying accurate chromosome segregation which ensures genomic stability.
  • Michael Crair, the William Ziegler III Professor in the Department of Neuroscience, Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Science and Deputy Dean for Scientific Affairs (Basic Science Departments) at the Yale School of Medicine, develops imaging technologies to interrogate neural circuit development.
  • Akiko Iwasaki, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the Yale School of Medicine, is focused on understanding how viruses are recognized by the innate immune system and how protective adaptive immunity is generated.
  • Susan Marqusee, the Warren Eveland Chair and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley and Director of the Institute of Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), studies the biophysical principles underlying how linear sequences of amino acids encode structural and dynamic information that enables unique protein function.

I am delighted to welcome these colleagues to the Board.

We five new BSA members are lucky to join a Board with long-term members who can show us the ropes, and who span disciplines across biomedicine. They are Catherine Dulac from Harvard and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (neuronal basis of social behaviors), Ralph Isberg from Tufts (intracellular pathogen-host interactions), Eric Olson from UT Southwestern (stem cell fate determination and regeneration), Luis Parada from Memorial Sloan Kettering (cancer stem cells and tumor progression), Carol Prives from Columbia (structure and function of the p53 tumor suppressor), Sandra Schmid from UT Southwestern (clatherin-mediated endocytosis), Brenda Schulman from the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (ubiquitin-mediated protein regulation), and Li-Huei Tsai from MIT (mechanisms underlying neurological disorders).

I am looking forward to my new work with JCC, and I anticipate a heady adventure filled with groundbreaking new science. To the fellows especially, I hope you will find some moments to meet me and all the other BSA members at the JCC retreat this spring.


Bonnie Bassler

Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology and Professor
Chair of Molecular Biology
Princeton University

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator