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Curiosity Pays Off

Biologist Scott Bailey Wins $250,000 President’s Frontier Award For Cell Structure Visualization Breakthrough

When passionate researchers are immersed in an idea, it’s not uncommon for the rest of the world to fade away.

So on February 1, 2016, Scott Bailey, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, was appropriately shocked to find his students and colleagues crowded into his lab under a giant banner declaring him this year's winner of the President’s Frontier Award for his work in illuminating never-seen-before cellular structures.

Bailey’s discovery, driven by his desire to pursue subjects “just for the curiosity of it all," allowed him to visualize the atomic structure of Cascade, a large multiprotein complex with a key role in the CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) system of bacterial immunity.

Scott Bailey

The breakthrough by Bailey's team allows for a better understanding of the bacterial immune response as a barrier to the transfer of genetic information that promotes virulence and antibiotic resistance among bacterial cells.

It sets the stage for the development of new drugs to prevent antibiotic resistance and will foster progress in genome-editing strategies that may someday lead to precision treatments for genetic disorders.

"It's very sort of Hopkins in the sense that it is like a family here."

"It's phenomenal," Bailey says of the award. "It's very sort of Hopkins in the sense that it is like a family here. I feel it at all levels, from the Department to the School to the University."

Bailey says he is already thinking about what his team can do with the money, including "the ways we can push into new ground, to take on more risky projects. Government funding is more narrowly defined in what you can do. With this you can go after a problem and really take risks with it. … That is where the breakthroughs tend to come."

"This award is to just dream and follow wherever curiosity leads him in advancing his research agenda," Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels said after surprising Bailey in his lab with the $250,000 award. Joined by Provost Robert C. Lieberman, the president congratulated Bailey on the transformative impact he has had on his discipline, adding "this is a vote of confidence in knowing the best is yet to come."



In recent years Bailey has been lauded as one of the best structural biologists of his generation.

"As a researcher, Scott is incredibly gifted," says Pierre A. Coulombe, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. "He's bold in the choices he makes, but steady and poised as he is pursuing a question. He also has been a very strong mentor to his students."