Mallarino Receives Dean for Research Innovation Award

June 8, 2020

A project to study antimicrobial agents found in the pouches of marsupials such as this sugar glider is one of three to be awarded Dean for Research Innovation Funds for New Ideas in the Natural Sciences. 


The fund supports the exploration of new concepts that require additional study or experiments before they are ready to become the basis of a competitive proposal to a funding agency. 

Ricardo Mallarino, assistant professor of molecular biology, will study the naturally occurring antimicrobial agents that marsupials — which carry their offspring to term in an external pouch — employ to kill toxic microbes. Marsupials are born without a working immune system and rely for survival entirely on factors secreted by glands found in the pouch or transferred through maternal milk. The researchers will explore the genetic sequences of these molecules, known as antimicrobial peptides, to discover how the genes have evolved over time in ways that contribute to their efficacy against microbes, with the eventual goal of understanding natural defense mechanisms and informing the design of new antimicrobial drugs.

The funding makes possible explorations in the natural sciences and social sciences, collaborations with industry, and collaborations between artists and scientists or engineers. Several of the projects have the potential for direct benefits to human health while others explore themes in history and the arts. The projects were chosen by faculty-led committees based on the quality, originality and potential of the research.

“Princeton faculty are pioneers across the range of human inquiry, and these innovation funds enable our researchers and their teams to explore paths that they might not otherwise take,” said Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemical and biological engineering. “Through this funding program, the University shows support for the innovation mindset that leads to truly profound advances and can also lead to societal benefits.”