Princeton University is partnering with Microsoft to collaborate on a microbiology and computational modeling research project that aims to understand a deadly form of bacteria.

In this project, Microsoft is helping Princeton to better understand the mechanisms of biofilm formation by providing advanced technology that will greatly extend the type of research analysis capable today. Biofilms — surface-associated communities of bacteria — are the leading cause of microbial infection worldwide and kill as many people as cancer does. They are also a leading cause of antibiotic resistance, a problem highlighted by the World Health Organization as “a global crisis that we cannot ignore.” Understanding how biofilms form could enable new strategies to disrupt them.

To support Princeton, a Microsoft team led by Andrew Phillips, head of the Biological Computation group at Microsoft Research, will be working closely with Bonnie Bassler, a pioneer in microbiology who is a professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton, and with Ned Wingreen, a professor of life sciences and molecular biology at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

Using Microsoft’s cloud and advanced machine learning, Princeton will be able to study different strains of biofilms in new ways to better understand how they work. Microsoft is contributing a cloud-based prototype that can be used for biological modeling and experimentation that will be deployed at Princeton. This work combines programming languages and compilers, which generate biological protocols that can be executed using lab automation technology. It allows experimental data to be uploaded to the cloud where it can be analyzed at scale using advanced machine learning and data analysis methods, to generate biological knowledge. This in turn informs the design of subsequent experiments, to provide insight into the mechanisms of biofilm formation. Princeton is contributing world-leading expertise in experiments and modeling of microbial biofilms.

“This collaboration enables us to bring together advances in computing and microbiology in powerful new ways,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. “This partnership can help us unlock answers that we hope someday may help save millions of people around the world.”

“By combining our distinctive strengths, Princeton and Microsoft will increase our ability to make the discoveries needed to improve lives and serve society,” said Christopher L. Eisgruber, president of Princeton University. “Technology is creating new possibilities for collaboration, and we hope this venture will inspire other innovative partnerships in the years ahead.”

Princeton’s relationship with Microsoft is one of the University’s most extensive with industry, spanning collaborations in computer science, cybersecurity, and now biomedical research.

Princeton University, 1 Nassau Hall, Princeton 08544. 609-258-3000. Christopher Eisgruber, president.

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