Inside Salk; Salk Insitute

Executive Message

William R. Brody

With California's drought perpetually in the headlines, it’s an opportune time to note the advancements made by Salk scientists who specialize in plant biology. The feature story in this issue of Inside Salk reveals how teams in the labs of Joanne Chory and Joseph Noel are identifying some of the tools, such as genetic variations and molecular mechanisms, that plants use to adapt to environmental challenges. Theirs is vitally important work that too often does not receive the spotlight. But a burgeoning global population combined with the disruptive changes to our climate means that such work is critical to human survival.

I might add that one of the oldest trees in the world–a 5,000- year-old specimen that has withstood many droughts, along with pests, disease and erratic changes in climate–continues to survive here in California. It’s living–and thriving–proof there is hope for plants and for us.

You’ll find that advancements in neuroscience comprise many of our other recent discoveries. Martyn Goulding has mapped circuitry in the spinal cord that facilitates balance; Dennis O’Leary demonstrated the amazing plasticity of neurons; Ronald Evans identified a metabolic protein that impacts both physical and mental activities; and Sreekanth Chalasani added to our understanding of how chemical signals influence risk-taking behaviors. Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, who earned publication in three top biomedical journals–Cell, Nature and Science–in the space of a few weeks, devised a method to eliminate the transmission of mitochondrial disease and tied the aging process to deterioration of DNA packaging.

Additional recent achievements at Salk include Inder Verma’s development of an “immune system-in-a-dish” that offers hope for those with blood disorders, and Kathy Jones’ investigation into a cellular pathway that directs the growth of stem cells, a process that is key to regenerative therapies.

The volume and significance of these advancements speak to the level of science taking place here at the Institute. It is work that is recognized beyond our walls, and I’m proud to congratulate Dennis O’Leary and Joseph Ecker on their election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Vicki Lundblad to the National Academy of Sciences; Joanne Chory to the American Philosophical Society; and Nicola Allen on being named a Pew Scholar. Our investigators strive to be at the very forefront of science and I hope you’ll find, as I do, that their stories make for inspiring reading.