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Salk News


A novel technology for genome-editing a broad range of mutations in live organisms

LA JOLLA—The ability to edit genes in living organisms offers the opportunity to treat a plethora of inherited diseases. However, many types of gene-editing tools are unable to target critical areas of DNA, and creating such a technology has been difficult as living tissue contains diverse types of cells.


Brain’s astrocytes play starring role in long-term memory

LA JOLLA—Star-shaped cells called astrocytes help the brain establish long-lasting memories, Salk researchers have discovered. The new work adds to a growing body of evidence that astrocytes, long considered to be merely supportive cells in the brain, may have more of a leading role. The study, published in the journal GLIA on July 26, 2019, could inform therapies for disorders in which long-term memory is impaired, such as traumatic brain injury or dementia.


Scratching the surface of how your brain senses an itch

LA JOLLA—Light touch plays a critical role in everyday tasks, such as picking up a glass or playing a musical instrument. The sensation is also an essential part of the body’s protective defense system, alerting us to objects in our environment that could cause us to fall or injure ourselves. In addition, it is part of the detection system that has evolved to protect us from biting insects, such as those that cause malaria and Lyme disease, by eliciting a feeling of an itch when an insect lands on your skin.


Salk scientists Margarita Behrens and Joseph Ecker to receive over $1.6 million from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to expand Human Cell Atlas

LA JOLLA–Joseph Ecker, professor and director of Salk’s Genomic Analysis Laboratory and Margarita Behrens, a research professor in Salk’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, will receive over $1.6 million over three years as part of a Seed Network Grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).


Finding a cause of neurodevelopmental disorders

LA JOLLA—Neurodevelopmental disorders arising from rare genetic mutations can cause atypical cognitive function, intellectual disability, and developmental delays, yet it is unclear why and how this happens. Scientists suspected a mutation in a complex of proteins could be the culprit for a group of rare genetic disorders and, now, Salk Institute researchers have identified the molecular mechanism linking this mutation with abnormal nervous system development. The team’s findings, published in Molecular Cell on July 30, 2019, bring researchers one step closer to understanding neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Nicolaides-Baraitser syndrome and others.


Two therapeutic targets identified for deadly lung cancer

LA JOLLA—The vast majority of deadly lung cancer cases (85 percent) are termed non-small-cell lung carcinomas (NSCLCs), which often contain a mutated gene called LKB1. Salk Institute researchers have now discovered precisely why inactive LKB1 results in cancer development. The surprising results, published in the online version of Cancer Discovery on July 26, 2019, highlight how LBK1 communicates with two enzymes that suppress inflammation in addition to cell growth, to block tumor growth. The findings could lead to new therapies for NSCLC, and you can see news coverage of the story here.


Unlocking therapies for hard-to-treat lung cancers

LA JOLLAAround 85 percent of lung cancers are classified as non-small-cell lung cancers, or NSCLCs. Some patients with these cancers can be treated with targeted genetic therapies, and some benefit from immunotherapies—but the vast majority of NSCLC patients have no treatment options except for chemotherapy.


How mammals’ brains evolved to distinguish odors is nothing to sniff at

LA JOLLA—The world is filled with millions upon millions of distinct smells, but how mammals’ brains evolved to tell them apart is something of a mystery.


Gene identified that will help develop plants to fight climate change

LA JOLLA—Hidden underground networks of plant roots snake through the earth foraging for nutrients and water, similar to a worm searching for food. Yet, the genetic and molecular mechanisms that govern which parts of the soil roots explore remain largely unknown. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered a gene that determines whether roots grow deep or shallow in the soil.


Tony Award-Winner Laura Benanti to headline 24th Symphony at Salk

La Jolla — The Salk Institute will celebrate 24 years of Symphony at Salk, its annual concert under the stars, with the sounds of Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti and the acclaimed San Diego Symphony on Saturday, August 24.


New computational tool lets researchers identify cells based on their chromosome shape

LA JOLLA—In the nucleus of every living cell, long strands of DNA are tightly folded into compact chromosomes. Now, thanks to a new computational approach developed at the Salk Institute, researchers can use the architecture of these chromosome folds to differentiate between types of cells. The information about each cell’s chromosome structure will give scientists a better understanding of how interactions between different regions of DNA play a role in health and disease. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of July 8, 2019.


Deciphering how the brain encodes color and shape

LA JOLLA—There are hundreds of thousands of distinct colors and shapes that a person can distinguish visually, but how does the brain process all of this information? Scientists previously believed that the visual system initially encodes shape and color with different sets of neurons and then combines them much later. But a new study from Salk researchers, published in Science on June 27, 2019, shows that there are neurons that respond selectively to particular combinations of color and shape.


Patrick Hsu named an MIT Technology Review 2019 Innovator Under 35

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced that Helmsley-Salk Fellow Patrick Hsu has been named to MIT Technology Review’s prestigious annual list of Innovators Under 35. Every year, the media company recognizes a list of exceptionally talented technologists whose work has great potential to transform the world.


Gerald Joyce elected to Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Gerald Joyce, a pioneer in the field of in vitro evolution, has been elected to the prestigious Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences as a foreign member. The Royal Swedish Academy’s approximately 460 Swedish and 175 foreign members together represent some of the world’s foremost experts in the sciences.


Sugars that coat proteins are a possible drug target for pancreatitis

LA JOLLA—Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that accounts for 275,000 hospitalizations in the United States annually. Patients who suffer from hereditary pancreatitis have a 40 to 50 percent lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer.


Salk scientist Diana Hargreaves named Pew-Stewart Scholar for innovative cancer research

LA JOLLA – (June 14, 2019) Diana Hargreaves, an assistant professor in Salk’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, has been named a 2019 Pew-Stewart Scholar for Cancer Research as part of a partnership between the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust. The scholars each receive $300,000 over four years to support their work focused on a better understanding of the causes, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


How old are your organs? To scientists’ surprise, organs are a mix of young and old cells

LA JOLLA—Scientists once thought that neurons, or possibly heart cells, were the oldest cells in the body. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered that the mouse brain, liver and pancreas contain populations of cells and proteins with extremely long lifespans—some as old as neurons. The findings, demonstrating “age mosaicism,” were published in Cell Metabolism on June 6, 2019. The team’s methods could be applied to nearly any tissue in the body to provide valuable information about lifelong function of non-dividing cells and how cells lose control over the quality and integrity of proteins and important cell structures during aging.


Salk Institute Professor Edward Callaway elected to National Academy of Sciences

LA JOLLA—The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently announced that Salk Institute Professor Edward Callaway is one of 100 new members and 25 foreign associates to be elected to the NAS in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The election is considered one of the highest honors accorded to a U.S. scientist. Callaway’s recognition brings the number of Salk faculty elected to the NAS to 16.


Editing of RNA may play a role in chloroplast-to-nucleus communication

LA JOLLA—What will a three-degree-warmer world look like? How will plants fare in more extreme weather conditions? When experiencing stress or damage from various sources, plants use chloroplast-to-nucleus communication to regulate gene expression and help them cope.


Message from Salk President Rusty Gage

As you may have seen, this week the Salk Institute featured prominently in the international spotlight, with Professor Joanne Chory and a talented team of Salk scientists receiving a $35 million award from TED Audacious, a collaborative platform founded to identify “jaw-dropping ideas” and “encourage the world’s greatest change-agents to dream bigger.” In this case, the “jaw-dropping” idea is Salk’s Harnessing Plants Initiative, an innovative approach to combatting climate change.