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CIENCE AND

ECHNOLOGY

www.salk.edu

Inside Salk 12 |15

Feature

5

I

T’S FEEDING TIME AT THE MICROSCOPIC ZOO.

In a small, brightly lit room, scientists sit or stand

at counters, carefully pouring liquid food into

round petri dishes. The dishes, which contain tiny

specks of stem cells, turn yellow (a result of the

cells’ waste) when it’s time to feed them. The

dishes turn a happier crimson when the cells are given

their daily cocktail of vitamins and sugars.

Stem cells are incredibly fickle, requiring precise, often

daily, care to survive. But the effort has a potentially big

payoff, as the cells are a powerful way to study diseases

ranging from autism to cancer and hold the key to life-

saving regenerative therapies.

The most sophisticated research technologies—from stem

cell protocols to genome sequencers—demand dedicated

expertise and thorough understanding of their complexities,

limitations and possibilities. This specialized knowledge is

often beyond the purview of the average research lab, as

are the expenses associated with purchasing, operating and

maintaining the very latest in equipment and supplies.

That’s where shared scientific facilities called cores, like

the Salk Stem Cell Core, come in. As part of Salk’s first

major fundraising campaign, the Institute has secured

support to expand its core facilities in recent years. The

Institute currently has 13 core facilities providing lead-

ing-edge scientific technologies and expertise. Far from

being just service stations, the cores are idea factories

spurring collaboration and pushing the limits of technology

to enable breakthroughs.

“To do big science, you need big technology,” says

Travis Berggren

, senior director of Salk’s scientific core

facilities. “The continued advancement and cost of

technology, as well as the need for trained experts, are

the drivers for creating these structured, shared resources

between the labs.”

A software program calculates the distance between

brain cell terminals in a sample to determine the

number of synaptic connections (yellow).

Courtesy of the Allen lab