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Salk News


How the brain gathers threat cues and turns them into fear

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists have uncovered a molecular pathway that distills threatening sights, sounds and smells into a single message: Be afraid. A molecule called CGRP enables neurons in two separate areas of the brain to bundle threatening sensory cues into a unified signal, tag it as negative and convey it to the amygdala, which translates the signal into fear.


New target identified for treatment of premature aging disease

LA JOLLA—A stretch of DNA that hops around the human genome plays a role in premature aging disorders, scientists at the Salk Institute and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have discovered. In people with early aging, or progeria, RNA encoded by this mobile DNA builds up inside cells. What’s more, the scientists found that blocking this RNA reverses the disease in mice.


Discovery advances the potential of gene therapy to restore hearing loss

LA JOLLA—Scientists from the Salk Institute and the University of Sheffield co-led a study that shows promise for the development of gene therapies to repair hearing loss. In developed countries, roughly 80 percent of deafness cases that occur before a child learns to speak are due to genetic factors. One of these genetic components leads to the absence of the protein EPS8, which coincides with improper development of sensory hair cells in the inner ear. These cells normally have long hair-like structures, called stereocilia, that transduce sound into electrical signals that can be perceived by the brain. In the absence of EPS8, the stereocilia are too short to function, leading to deafness.


Scientists find surprising link between mitochondrial DNA and increased atherosclerosis risk

LA JOLLA— Mitochondria are known as cells’ powerhouses, but mounting evidence suggests they also play a role in inflammation. Scientists from the Salk Institute and UC San Diego published new findings in Immunity on August 2, 2022, where they examined human blood cells and discovered a surprising link between mitochondria, inflammation and DNMT3A and TET2—two genes that normally help regulate blood cell growth but, when mutated, are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis.


Making a memory positive or negative

LA JOLLA—Researchers at the Salk Institute and colleagues have discovered the molecule in the brain responsible for associating good or bad feelings with a memory. Their discovery, published in Nature on July 20, 2022, paves the way for a better understanding of why some people are more likely to retain negative emotions than positive ones—as can occur with anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Salk researchers discover how RNA processing goes awry in rare immune disease

LA JOLLA—Researchers at the Salk Institute and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have discovered a new underlying cause of Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a rare genetic disease that leads to bleeding and immune deficiencies in babies. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications on June 25, 2022, revolve around how cells cut and paste strands of RNA in a process called RNA splicing. The genetic mutations associated with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, they found, disrupt this process which, in turn, prevents numerous immune and anti-inflammatory proteins from being made correctly.


The best offense is a great defense for some carnivorous plants

LA JOLLA–Insect-eating plants have fascinated biologists for more than a century, but how plants evolved the ability to capture and consume live prey has largely remained a mystery. Now, Salk scientists, along with collaborators from Washington University in St. Louis, have investigated the molecular basis of plant carnivory and found evidence that it evolved from mechanisms plants use to defend themselves.


Renowned plant molecular geneticist Mary Lou Guerinot joins Salk Institute as Nonresident Fellow

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has named plant molecular geneticist Mary Lou Guerinot a Nonresident Fellow, a group of eminent scientific advisors that guide the Institute’s leadership. Guerinot holds the Ronald and Deborah Harris Professorship in the Sciences and is a professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth College, where she was the first woman to chair a science department.


Salk Research Professor Todd Michael receives $2 million to build a genome repository for the cassava plant

LA JOLLA–Research Professor Todd Michael will receive nearly $2 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to sequence the genomes of multiple lineages of the cassava plant, a large starchy root vegetable also known as yuca root consumed in more than 80 countries around the world. A better understanding of cassava genetics will help researchers and plant breeders develop more productive disease- and drought-resistant plants for the future.


Imaging solves mystery of how large HIV protein functions to form infectious virus

LA JOLLA—Understanding how HIV replicates within cells is key for developing new therapies that could help nearly 40 million people living with HIV globally. Now, a team of scientists from the Salk Institute and Rutgers University have for the first time determined the molecular structure of HIV Pol, a protein that plays a key role in the late stages of HIV replication, or the process through which the virus propagates itself and spreads through the body. Importantly, determining the molecule’s structure helps answer longstanding questions about how the protein breaks itself apart to advance the replication process. The discovery, published in Science Advances on July 6, 2022, reveals a new vulnerability in the virus that could be targeted with drugs.


Salk Institute names Gerald Joyce senior vice president and chief science officer

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has named Gerald Joyce, a professor in the Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics, to the position of senior vice president and chief science officer.


Salk Institute mourns the loss of Professor Emeritus Walter Eckhart

LA JOLLA—Professor Emeritus Walter Eckhart, who served as director of the Salk Institute’s National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center and head of the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory for more than 30 years, died suddenly on June 21, 2022, at his home in La Jolla, California. He was 84.


Hair-raising research: Salk scientists find surprising link between immune system, hair growth

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists have uncovered an unexpected molecular target of a common treatment for alopecia, a condition in which a person’s immune system attacks their own hair follicles, causing hair loss. The findings, published in Nature Immunology on June 23, 2022, describe how immune cells called regulatory T cells interact with skin cells using a hormone as a messenger to generate new hair follicles and hair growth.


Salk Professor Janelle Ayres joins Cancer Grand Challenges team tackling cancer cachexia

LA JOLLA—An international team of researchers, including Salk Institute Professor Janelle Ayres, has been selected to receive a $25 million Cancer Grand Challenges award to tackle the challenge of cancer cachexia, a debilitating wasting condition that often leads to a poor quality of life for people in the later stages of their cancer. Cachexia is responsible for up to 30 percent of cancer-related deaths.


Salk Institute scientist Christina Towers named a 2022 Pew-Stewart Scholar for Cancer Research

LA JOLLA—Assistant Professor Christina Towers has been named a 2022 Pew-Stewart Scholar for Cancer Research as part of a partnership between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust. Towers is among this year’s six early-career scientists who will each receive $300,000 over the next four years to support research focused on a better understanding of the causes, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


The Salk Institute promotes three faculty members in the field of neuroscience

LA JOLLA—Three Salk Institute faculty members have been promoted based on their outstanding scientific contributions. They are leaders who have made original, innovative and notable contributions to neuroscience. Assistant Professors Kenta Asahina and Eiman Azim were promoted to associate professor, and Associate Research Professor Margarita Behrens was promoted to research professor.


Salk Institute appoints Bryan Robinson vice president of external relations

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today the appointment of Bryan Robinson as vice president of external relations. Effective July 8, 2022, he will oversee the Institute’s philanthropic efforts, communications, public programs and events.


Salk Institute receives Charity Navigator’s highest rating for eleventh consecutive time

LA JOLLA—For the eleventh consecutive time, the Salk Institute has earned the highest ranking—4 out of 4 stars—from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity and nonprofit evaluator. Only two percent of the approximately 10,000 nonprofits evaluated have achieved this recognition 10 consecutive times. The coveted ranking indicates the Salk Institute has demonstrated strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency, outperforming most other charities in the United States with respect to executing best fiscal practices and carrying out its mission in a financially efficient way.


Salk Institute’s Terrence Sejnowski awarded Gruber Prize

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Terrence Sejnowski has been awarded the 2022 Gruber Neuroscience Prize by the Gruber Foundation for his “pioneering contributions to computational and theoretical neuroscience.” He shares the $500,000 award with Larry Abbott of Columbia University, Emery Neal Brown of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Hospital, and Haim Sompolinsky of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Harvard University.


Salk Institute hosts Louis Vuitton fashion show

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute was proud to host French luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton and guests on May 12 for a private fashion show presenting the brand’s Cruise 2023 collection. The show was the first event of its kind to be held at the Institute.