A chemical engineer working on ways to design new antibiotics has won the National Science Foundation's prestigious Alan T. Waterman award for young researchers. The prize lands Chaitan Khosla of Stanford University a $500,000 grant over 3 years.
Khosla, 34, has been investigating the microbial genes that make polyketides, a class of complex molecules that fungi and bacteria use for chemical defense. Khosla and his colleagues have co-opted bacteria into making novel polyketides by creating novel building blocks that the bacteria take up and then modify into compounds resembling antibiotics (Science, 18 July 1997, p. 367). The work "has captured the attention of the entire pharmaceutical industry as an exciting new approach for the production of new antimicrobial agents from engineered organisms," says University of California, Berkeley, chemist Peter Schultz.