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Scientific Symposium and Salk Institute Medals Presentation Mark End of 50th Anniversary

It was the perfect finale to the Salk Institute's 50th anniversary celebration: a three-day symposium that feted the Institute's entire reason for being: world-class science. Titled "Biological Complexity: Emerging Concepts and Trends," the October 27-29 event brought together the Salk faculty and some of the most distinguished scientists in the world, capped by an awards dinner featuring presentation of the Salk Institute Medals for Public Service and Research Excellence.

"We had a marvelous three days with 25 talks that were absolutely worthy of the 50th anniversary of the Salk Institute," observed Inder Verma, a professor in the Laboratory of Genetics and holder of the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Chair in Exemplary Life Science, who chaired the symposium planning committee and the selection committee for the public service medal. "Joanne Chory [director of the Salk Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory and holder of the Howard H. and Maryam R. Newman Chair] said most of the presenters were the rock stars of their science, and that's exactly who they were," he added.

Qualcomm cofounder Irwin Jacobs, who chairs the Salk board of trustees, received the Salk Institute Medal for Public Service for his leadership and philanthropy, which have literally been reshaping the San Diego region and the world beyond.

"Throughout his life, Dr. Jacobs has demonstrated that rare combination of intellectual curiosity, raw talent, hard work and the ability to imagine doing things differently," noted Salk president William R. Brody, in presenting the award. "These are the personal gifts that made him a successful innovator, educator and businessman and are the same ones that then propelled him to become one of the most influential civic leaders and philanthropists in America today."

Upon accepting the medal, Jacobs said, "The medal will be very special, but being part of the Institute—the ability to interact with everyone here at Salk—is what's really exciting for me."

After explaining the science behind gene transcription, Tony Hunter, American Cancer Society Professor and holder of the Frederick W. and Joanna J. Mitchell Chair, presented the Salk Institute Medal for Research Excellence to Robert G. Roeder, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Professor at The Rockefeller University, whose pioneering investigations into how genes are transcribed into RNA have revolutionized our understandi ng of gene expression. Over the past four decades, Roeder has made seminal discoveries and purified a series of large protein complexes containing over 100 different proteins used for the critical process of transcribing DNA into RNA copies—discoveries that have profoundly influenced everyone who works on gene expression in mammalian cells.

"There's little doubt that the identification and the functional characterization of such a large group of proteins all dedicated to the crucial task of regulated RNA synthesis represents the most outstanding biochemical achievement of the last 40 years and perhaps of the last century," declared Hunter, who chaired the selection committee.

For his part, Roeder acknowledged the extraordinary vision of Jonas Salk in founding the Salk Institute, as well as the seminal contributions of the fellows and staff over the years in bringing it to its current pinnacle of scientific distinction. "This of course makes this award all the more meaningful," he said, "and I'm personally thrilled and deeply honored to accept it on behalf of the outstanding young colleagues who over four decades have helped me toward my original goal of understanding the molecular basis of gene control in animal cells."

The first Salk Institute Medals, which were designed by Paloma Picasso, daughter of Francoise Gilot-Salk, Jonas Salk's widow, were presented in 2005.