Mohammad Seyedsayamdost to receive Distinguished Innovation award for method of discovering hidden antibiotics

Written by
Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research
Nov. 30, 2021

Seyedsayamdost, professor of chemistry, will present an honorary lecture on Thurs. Dec 2 at 12:30 p.m. at Engage 2021, Princeton’s innovation and entrepreneurship conference. The lecture is online, free and open to the public. Register for Engage 2021.

Mohammad Seyedsayamdost, professor of chemistry at Princeton University, will be awarded the second-annual Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation for the invention of a method for discovering new drugs against bacterial, viral and fungal infections.

The award will be presented at 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 2 as part of Engage 2021, Princeton’s innovation and entrepreneurship conference, which is free and open to the public. In conjunction with the award, Seyedsayamdost will deliver a lecture on the technology and its scientific and societal impact.

Each year, the Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation recognizes an innovation led by a Princeton professor whose scholarly activity and creative thinking has led to solutions for an issue of importance to society. The Office of the Dean for Research, home to Princeton Innovation, sponsors the award.

Seyedsayamdost’s innovation is a method to discover entirely new types of antimicrobial agents. With two postdoctoral co-founders, Seyedsayamdost has formed a startup company, Cryptyx Bioscience, that aims to develop the platform and bring forward new treatments against diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.

“Professor Seyedsayamdost’s research addresses one of the critical challenges facing us today, that of treating infectious diseases,” said Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science, and professor of chemical and biological engineering. “This work exemplifies the ways in which Princeton researchers contribute to progress on issues of importance to our world.”

Most antibiotics are based on naturally occurring molecules produced by various microorganisms. For example, the well-known antibiotic penicillin is based on a molecule secreted by a fungus to fight off bacterial competitors. The majority of today’s antibiotics are based on natural products discovered decades ago, and new drugs are desperately needed to fight deadly strains of bacteria that have developed resistance to nearly all antibiotics in the global medicine cabinet.

This is where Seyedsayamdost’s approach has broken new ground: it systematically discovers natural products that other microorganisms utilize to kill bacteria.

Typically plants and microorganisms only produce these anti-infective products when they are under threat. The rest of the time the genes that produce these substances are silent, or hidden. Seyedsayamdost wondered, might there be a way to trigger these silent genes to turn on and reveal their capacity to make antimicrobial chemicals?

Seyedsayamdost’s solution, called High-Throughput Elicitor Screening (HiTES), is a simple, rapid and cost-effective protocol to trigger expression of silent genes and to identify products with desirable antibiotic activity. The technology is based on work conducted at Princeton and described in a highly-cited paper authored by Seyedsayamdost in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014.

HiTES has since unearthed more than 75 previously unknown natural products, including ones with antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.

Through the startup Cryptyx Bioscience, Seyedsayamdost and colleagues hope to develop the platform and bring antibiotic lead compounds forward into clinical trials. The company co-founders are postdoctoral research associate Maryam Elfeki and associate research scholar Brett Covington.

“Through this new startup company, the research team aims to translate groundbreaking laboratory research into tangible benefits to human health,” said Vice Dean for Innovation Rodney Priestley, the Pomeroy and Betty Perry Smith Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. “This is one of the ways that innovation and entrepreneurship help to enable University research to make a difference in everyday lives.”

The awardee is chosen from among nominations by other faculty members by a panel of distinguished innovators. Criteria for the award include: lineage to scholarly research conducted at Princeton; creativity in addressing a critical challenge or opportunity of importance to society; and potential or demonstrated impact of the innovation beyond the campus.

The innovation has previously received funding from Princeton’s Intellectual Property Accelerator Fund and Dean for Research Innovation Fund for New Industrial Collaborations.

All Engage 2021 sessions, including the award presentation and lecture on Dec. 2 at 12:30 p.m., are online, free and open to the public. For more information or to register, visit