New collaborators from divergent
fields are tackling some of biology’s
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
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.
, 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
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.
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