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"Jumping genes" contribute to the uniqueness of individual brains

La Jolla, CA – Brains are marvels of diversity: no two look the same – not even those of otherwise identical twins. Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies may have found one explanation for the puzzling variety in brain organization and function: mobile elements, pieces of DNA that can jump from one place in the genome to another, randomly changing the genetic information in single brain cells. If enough of these jumps occur, they could allow individual brains to develop in distinctly different ways.


Salk Institute scientist Geoff Wahl named President-elect of world's largest cancer research organization

La Jolla, CA – Geoffrey M. Wahl, Ph.D., professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, recently was elected the 2006-07 president of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to accelerating scientific progress to prevent and cure cancer.


Deadly infectious entity of prions discovered

La Jolla, CA – The mysterious, highly infectious prions, which cause the severe destruction of the brain that characterizes 'mad cow disease' and several human brain degenerative disorders, can be rendered harmless in the laboratory by a slight alternation of the three-dimensional conformation or shape of the prion protein's structure.


Several minute intermediate stage in virus-cell fusion discovered; possible window of opportunity for drug development

La Jolla, CA – To ignite a life-threatening infection in the body, a virus such as HIV invades body cells by first merging, or fusing, with the cell's outer membrane. Once inside the cell, the invading microbe's genetic material takes over, turning the 'host' cell into a factory to produce more copies of the virus, which then spill out to invade other cells in the body.


Developing nervous system sculpted by opposing chemical messengers

La Jolla, CA – A newborn baby moves, breathes and cries in part because a network of nerves called motor neurons carry signals from the infant's brain and spinal cord to muscles throughout its body.


The ultimate spa: embryonic body wash controls left-right development

La Jolla, CA – Humans and other animals may appear to be symmetrical on the outside, but symmetry is only skin deep. Many body organs, such as the stomach, the heart and the liver, are tipped to the right or left side. So how does the developing embryo distinguish left from right? Salk scientists have now discovered that the foundations for the basic left-right body plan are laid by a microscopic 'pump' on the outer surface of the embryo's underside that wafts chemical messengers over to the left side of the body. This sets up a chemical concentration gradient that tells stem cells how and where to develop. The remarkable findings, including movie footage of the 'pump,' are published in the May 20th edition of the journal Cell.


Unrestrained retina too much of a good thing

La Jolla, CA – When primitive nerve cells begin forming an eye in the mouse embryo, they are programmed to build a retina. But the ability to see depends upon connecting the retina to the brain via the optic nerve. Unless these embryonic cells are given the right cue at the right time, they mistakenly form a huge eye that consists entirely of retina and lacks the optic nerve.


Vitamin A's paradoxical role in influencing symmetry during embryonic development revealed by Salk Institute scientists

La Jolla, CA – In this week's journal Nature, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies report that they have solved one of the 'holy grail' puzzles of developmental biology: the existence of a mechanism that insures that the exterior of our bodies is symmetrical while inner organs are arranged asymmetrically.


Salk scientist Rusty Gage elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Awardees also include sculptor, actor and Supreme Court Chief Justice

La Jolla, CA – Fred H. "Rusty" Gage, Ph.D., whose basic research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has advanced scientific understanding about the potential of the adult brain and nervous system to repair itself, has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a distinction awarded annually to top individuals in business, government, public affairs, the arts and popular culture as well as biomedical research.


In mice, walking (and running) depends on nerve cell chatter during development

La Jolla, CA – The ability of a pair of legs to walk in a stepwise fashion with each other appears to be set up during a brief period as an embryo's spine develops, when a single neurotransmitter takes its turn to "talk" to nerve cells.


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