Salk Institute for Biological Studies - SALK NEWS

Salk News

Salk Professor Satchin Panda named 2023 AAAS Fellow

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Satchidananda Panda has been named a 2023 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. Panda is among 502 new AAAS Fellows spanning 24 scientific disciplines who were nominated by their peers for their distinguished efforts to advance science. The election recognizes his contributions to the field of chronobiology, particularly for applications to obesity and human health.

Protecting brain cells with cannabinol

LA JOLLA—One in every 10 individuals above the age of 65 develops an age-related neurological disorder like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, yet treatment options remain sparse for this population. Scientists have begun exploring whether cannabinoids—compounds derived from the cannabis plant, like well-known THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol)—may offer a solution. A third, lesser-known cannabinoid called CBN (cannabinol) has recently piqued the interest of researchers, who have begun exploring the clinical potential of the milder, less psychoactive substance.

A step towards clinic-ready patient-derived organoids

LA JOLLA—Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers and is projected to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States by 2030. It is especially difficult to treat because pancreatic tumors grow so quickly and are constantly evolving, making them prone to developing drug resistance.

Salk Professor Terrence Sejnowski wins Brain Prize

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Terrence Sejnowski will receive the 2024 Brain Prize for “pioneering the field of computational and theoretical neuroscience, making seminal contributions to our understanding of the brain, and paving the way for the development of brain-inspired artificial intelligence,” the Lundbeck Foundation announced today.

Modeling the origins of life: New evidence for an “RNA World”

LA JOLLA—Charles Darwin described evolution as "descent with modification." Genetic information in the form of DNA sequences is copied and passed down from one generation to the next. But this process must also be somewhat flexible, allowing slight variations of genes to arise over time and introduce new traits into the population.

More than just neurons: A new model for studying human brain inflammation

LA JOLLA—The brain is typically depicted as a complex web of neurons sending and receiving messages. But neurons only make up half of the human brain. The other half—roughly 85 billion cells—are non-neuronal cells called glia. The most common type of glial cells are astrocytes, which are important for supporting neuronal health and activity. Despite this, most existing laboratory models of the human brain fail to include astrocytes at sufficient levels or at all, which limits the models’ utility for studying brain health and disease.

Salk Institute mourns the loss of Nobel Laureate Roger Guillemin, distinguished professor emeritus

LA JOLLA—Salk Distinguished Professor Emeritus Roger Guillemin, recipient of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and neuroendocrinology pioneer, died on February 21, 2024, in Del Mar, California at the age of 100.

Salk scientists discover new target for reversible, non-hormonal male birth control

LA JOLLA—Surveys show most men in the United States are interested in using male contraceptives, yet their options remain limited to unreliable condoms or invasive vasectomies. Recent attempts to develop drugs that block sperm production, maturation, or fertilization have had limited success, providing incomplete protection or severe side effects. New approaches to male contraception are needed, but because sperm development is so complex, researchers have struggled to identify parts of the process that can be safely and effectively tinkered with.

Salk Professor Janelle Ayres elected to American Academy of Microbiology

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Janelle Ayres has been elected to the American Academy of Microbiology’s Fellowship Class of 2024. Fellows of the Academy, an honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology, are elected annually through a highly selective, peer-review process based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology. The Academy received 156 nominations this year, electing 65 into the 2024 Fellowship Class.

Controlling root growth direction could help save crops and mitigate climate change

LA JOLLA—Above ground, plants stretch toward the sun. Below ground, plants tunnel through the earth. As roots soak up water and nutrients from surrounding soil, they grow and stretch to develop distinct root system architectures. The root system architecture determines whether roots remain in the shallow soil layers or grow steeper and reach deeper soil layers. Root systems are central to plant survival and productivity, determining the plant’s access to nutrients and water and, therefore, the plant’s ability to withstand nutrient depletion and extreme weather like drought.

Faulty DNA disposal system causes inflammation

LA JOLLA—Cells in the human body contain power-generating mitochondria, each with their own mtDNA—a unique set of genetic instructions entirely separate from the cell’s nuclear DNA that mitochondria use to create life-giving energy. When mtDNA remains where it belongs (inside of mitochondria), it sustains both mitochondrial and cellular health—but when it goes where it doesn’t belong, it can initiate an immune response that promotes inflammation.

Lung cancer hijacks immune cell metabolism to fuel its own growth

LA JOLLA—Lung adenocarcinoma is the most common lung cancer and the cause of most cancer-related deaths in the United States. There are several ways lung adenocarcinoma can arise, one of which is a mutation in a protein called EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor). Non-mutated EGFR helps cells grow in response to injury, but mutated EGFR promotes out-of-control growth that can turn into cancer. Modern immunotherapies don’t work against EGFR-driven lung adenocarcinoma, and while some drugs exist to treat the cancer, patients typically develop a resistance to them within just a few years. This gap in the treatment toolchest inspired Salk Institute researchers to probe for weak spots in the cancer’s growth pathway.

Salk Professor Joanne Chory honored with Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Joanne Chory has been selected by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to receive a Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science for her achievements in plant science. She will receive a 14-karat gold medal and a $10,000 honorarium at the Franklin Institute Awards Ceremony in April 2024. Chory joins other extraordinary scientists and engineers as a Franklin laureate, including Nikola Tesla, Marie and Pierre Curie, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Jane Goodall, among others.

Salk Institute names Jan Karlseder as Chief Science Officer

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has named Jan Karlseder as its new senior vice president and chief science officer (CSO). Karlseder, a professor in Salk’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research, and Donald and Darlene Shiley Chair for Research on Aging, will assume the role on February 1, 2024.

Salk Institute Professor Ronald Evans honored with Japan Prize

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Ronald Evans has been named the 2024 recipient of the Japan Prize in the field of Medical Science and Pharmaceutical Science. The Japan Prize Foundation awards this prestigious international award annually to “express Japan’s gratitude to international society.”

Salk researchers earn $1.3 million W. M. Keck Foundation award to study aging brain

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Rusty Gage and Assistant Professor Pallav Kosuri have been awarded $1.3 million by the W. M. Keck Foundation to fund a novel investigation into the way brain and heart cell functions decline over time due to ribosubstitution events—cellular repair of DNA damage with RNA building blocks rather than DNA building blocks. The award combines the biological discovery of ribosubstitution made by Senior Research Associate Jeff Jones in Gage’s lab with the technological advancements established by Postdoctoral Researcher Yuening Liu in Kosuri’s lab. The W. M. Keck Foundation was established with the goal of generating far-reaching benefits for humanity by supporting outstanding science, engineering, and medical research.

Salk Distinguished Professor Emeritus Roger Guillemin, Nobel Prize laureate, celebrates 100th birthday

Roger Guillemin, Salk Distinguished Professor Emeritus and recipient of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, celebrates turning 100 years old on January 11.

Iron influences plant immunity and may promote resiliency against climate change

LA JOLLA—Plants and animals alike rely on iron for growth and regulation of microbiomes—collections of bacteria, fungi, and more that co-exist in places like the human gut or the soil around a plant’s roots. Plants face a special challenge when acquiring iron, since the strategies plants use to increase iron availability alter the root microbiome and can inadvertently benefit harmful soil-dwelling bacteria.

Salk Institute’s Terrence Sejnowski named Scientist of the Year by ARCS San Diego

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Terrence Sejnowski has been named 2024 Scientist of the Year by the ARCS Foundation of San Diego. The ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Students) San Diego chapter is honoring Sejnowski for his pioneering research in neural networks and computational neuroscience.

Salk scientists uncover key brain pathway mediating panic disorder symptoms

LA JOLLA—Overwhelming fear, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate—these are the symptoms of a panic attack, which people with panic disorder have frequently and unexpectedly. Creating a map of the regions, neurons, and connections in the brain that mediate these panic attacks can provide guidance for developing more effective panic disorder therapeutics.