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A second career for a growth factor receptor: keeping nerve axons on target

La Jolla, CA – Neurons constituting the optic nerve wire up to the brain in a highly dynamic way. Cell bodies in the developing retina sprout processes, called axons, which extend toward visual centers in the brain, lured by attractive cues and making U-turns when they take the wrong path. How they find targets so accurately is a central question of neuroscience today.

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How plants fine-tune their natural chemical defenses

La Jolla, CA – Even closely related plants produce their own natural chemical cocktails, each set uniquely adapted to the individual plant's specific habitat. Comparing anti-fungals produced by tobacco and henbane, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies discovered that only a few mutations in a key enzyme are enough to shift the whole output to an entirely new product mixture. Making fewer changes led to a mixture of henbane and tobacco-specific molecules and even so-called "chemical hybrids," explaining how plants can tinker with their natural chemical factories and adjust their product line to a changing environment without shutting down intracellular chemical factories completely.

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Salk researchers find master switch in the brain that regulates desire for food and ability to reproduce

La Jolla, CA – Body weight and fertility have long known to be related to each other – women who are too thin, for example, can have trouble becoming pregnant. Now, a master switch has been found in the brain of mice that controls both, and researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies say it may work the same way in humans.

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Keeping cells youthful: how telomere-building proteins get drawn into the fold

La Jolla, CA – It may take just one or two proteins to polish off a simple cellular task, but life-or-death matters, such as caring for the ends of chromosomes known as telomeres, require interacting crews of proteins, all with a common goal but each with a specialized task.

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Multi-tasking molecule holds key to allergic reactions

La Jolla, CA – As the summer approaches most of us rejoice, reach for the sunscreen and head outdoors. But an ever-growing number of people reach for tissue instead as pollen leaves eyes watering, noses running and spirits dwindling. Hay fever is just one of a host of hypersensitivity allergic diseases that cause suffering worldwide and others, such as severe reactions to bee stings or eating peanuts, can be more serious and even fatal.

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Distinguishing between two birds of a feather

La Jolla, CA – The bird enthusiast who chronicled the adventures of a flock of red-headed conures in his book "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" knows most of the parrots by name, yet most of us would be hard pressed to tell one bird from another. While it has been known for a long time that we can become acutely attuned to our day-to-day environment, the underlying neural mechanism has been less clear.

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Exercise in a pill

LA JOLLA, CA—Trying to reap the health benefits of exercise? Forget treadmills and spin classes, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies may have found a way around the sweat and pain. They identified two signaling pathways that are activated in response to exercise and converge to dramatically increase endurance.

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Stem cell chicken and egg debate moves to unlikely arena: the testes

La Jolla, CA – Logic says it has to be the niche. As air and water preceded life, so the niche, that hospitable environment that shelters adult stem cells in many tissues and provides factors necessary to keep them young and vital, must have emerged before its stem cell dependents.

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Can you hear me now?

La Jolla, CA – When it comes to cellular communication networks, a primitive single-celled microbe that answers to the name of Monosiga brevicollis has a leg up on animals composed of billions of cells. It commands a signaling network more elaborate and diverse than found in any multicellular organism higher up on the evolutionary tree, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have discovered.

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Salk researchers reprogram adult stem cells in their natural environment

La Jolla, CA – In recent years, stem cell researchers have become very adept at manipulating the fate of adult stem cells cultured in the lab. Now, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies achieved the same feat with adult neural stem cells still in place in the brain. They successfully coaxed mouse brain stem cells bound to join the neuronal network to differentiate into support cells instead.

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