April 23, 2015
LA JOLLA–Salk Institute Professors Joseph Ecker and Dennis O’Leary have received the prestigious honor of being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) class of 2015. One of the nation’s most prominent honorary societies, AAAS are among the 197 accomplished leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts accepted to this year’s class. Its members include winners of the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize; MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships; and Grammy, Emmy, Oscar and Tony Awards.
Ecker, a professor in Salk’s Plant Biology Laboratory, is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator. He also holds the Salk International Council Chair in Genetics. Ecker came to the Salk Institute in 2000 after serving on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania.
He is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the molecular biology and genetics of plants. Ecker was a principal investigator in the multinational project that sequenced the genome of Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant that has become a model organism for the study of genetics. This wild mustard variety is the first plant to have its genome sequenced, an achievement expected to have widespread implications for agriculture and perhaps human medicine as well.
Ecker has recently turned his considerable expertise to understanding and mapping the human epigenome, the pattern of chemical markers on DNA that can have a profound impact on health and development.
O’Leary, a professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, has been with the Institute for 25 years. He holds the Vincent J. Coates Chair in Molecular Neurobiology.
O’Leary tackles questions about brain development in order to better understand the genes and molecules which not only help neurons form and find their place in a developing brain, but also play key roles in neural function and health throughout life.
One focus is on genes that aid neurons in a growing brain connect from one place to another, following chemical cues to find their target. He also strives to understand how other genes are involved in pruning back neurons later in development, removing unneeded connections from the brain. This same process, scientists suspect, may also play a role in the later disappearance of certain adult neurons whose absence may be tied to dementia. His group also studies the genes and their functions in controlling the specification of functionally specialized areas of the cortex that control our sensory processing and motor movement.
Ecker and O’Leary bring the number of Salk scientists elected as members of AAAS to 16. The new class will officially be inducted during a ceremony in October.
About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world’s preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probes fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.
Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, MD, the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.