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New collaborators from divergent

fields are tackling some of biology’s

biggest questions

IF THE UNITED STATES CAN BE DESCRIBED AS THE “MELTING POT” OF

countries, the Salk Institute might be called the “reaction flask” of scientific

institutes: its mix of scientists from varying fields produces surprising—and

even life-changing—results.

Since its inception, the Institute has demonstrated that intellectual collisions

between scientists from different fields can spark remarkable discoveries.

Bringing together first-rate researchers in physics, behavioral psychology,

genetics, plant science and other fields has led to everything from cancer

drugs to a new understanding of the biological basis of language.

Now, Salk is doubling down on this strategy. Rapid technological advances

are allowing scientists to connect across fields in ways that were never before

possible. With this rise in technological capability has come a new genera-

tion of scientists who are experts in working across multiple fields. In recent

months, the Salk Institute has recruited a new batch of such researchers to

tackle major problems in biology from entirely new perspectives.

These incoming experts in chemistry, computer science and imaging aren’t

just providing savvy technical know-how to other labs, but are offering unique

approaches that, when partnered with traditional biology, could help solve

fundamental problems in human health.

Consider

Alan Saghatelian

, for instance. Saghatelian joined Salk last summer,

bringing with him a perspective from outside molecular biology that is already

yielding new insights ranging from cancer research to DNA visualization.

Saghatelian first began to move into the field of biochemistry while a

chemistry undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles. He

approached his fourth year wanting to do more than just develop new

methods to create chemicals.

“In chemistry, you engineer a molecule and you’re done. In biology, you make

discoveries and it becomes a first step in a long journey,” says Saghatelian.

“I didn’t want to be the guy waiting for someone to make a cool discovery

and then make the drug. I wanted to be part of the discovery to help uncover

the unknown.”

Eventually, Saghatelian found himself in a unique position to contribute to

that discovery process. He became an expert in mass spectrometry, a tech-

nology that charts the weight of molecules and can reveal the thousands

of molecules present in cell or tissue samples. While many scientists use

mass spectrometry routinely, Saghatelian is pushing this technology to new

limits to solve problems for which no other solution exists.

THE POWER

OF CONN

www.salk.edu

Inside Salk 04 | 15

Features

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