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Salk News


Finding the smallest genes could yield outsized benefits

LA JOLLA—While scientists know of about 25,000 genes that code for biologically important proteins, additional, smaller genes hiding in our DNA may be just as important. But these tiny lines of genetic code have proven tough to track down.


Three types of cells help the brain tell day from night

LA JOLLA—Bright light at night interrupts the body’s normal day-night cycles, called circadian rhythms, and can trigger insomnia. In fact, circadian rhythms play a major role in health. Disrupted day-night cycles have even been linked to increased incidence of diseases like cancer, heart disease, obesity, depressive disorders and type 2 diabetes in people who work night shifts. Therefore, understanding how human eyes sense light could lead to “smart” lights that can prevent depression, foster sleep at night, and maintain healthy circadian rhythms.


Clinical study finds eating within a 10-hour window may help stave off diabetes, heart disease

LA JOLLA—Metabolic syndrome affects nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population, and increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. But lifestyle interventions such as adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical exercise are difficult to maintain and, even when combined with medication, are often insufficient to fully manage the disease.


Diabetes drug has unexpected, broad implications for healthy aging

LA JOLLA—Metformin is the most commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drug, yet scientists still do not fully know how it works to control blood sugar levels. In a collaborative effort, researchers from the Salk Institute, The Scripps Research Institute and Weill Cornell Medical College have used a novel technology to investigate why it functions so well. The findings, which identified a surprising number of biochemical “switches” for various cellular processes, could also explain why metformin has been shown to extend health span and life span in recent studies. The work was published in Cell Reports on December 3, 2019.


Eight Salk professors named among most highly cited researchers in the world

LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joanne Chory, Joseph Ecker, Ronald Evans, Rusty Gage, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, Terrence SejnowskiReuben Shaw and Kay Tye have been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate Analytics. The list selects researchers for demonstrating “significant and broad influence” reflected by the production of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and year.


Brain biomarker predicts compulsive drinking

LA JOLLA—Although alcohol use is ubiquitous in modern society, only a portion of individuals develop alcohol use disorders or addiction. Yet, scientists have not understood why some individuals are prone to develop drinking problems, while others are not. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered a brain circuit that controls alcohol drinking behavior in mice, and can be used as a biomarker for predicting the development of compulsive drinking later on. The findings were published in Science on November 21, 2019, and could potentially have implications for understanding human binge drinking and addiction in the future.


Jean Rivier, Salk Professor Emeritus, Passes Away at 78

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Emeritus Jean Rivier, who pioneered studies on the characterization of the hypothalamic peptides that control the stress response, and developed drugs that target this response, passed away peacefully in San Diego, California, on November 13, 2019.


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

LA JOLLA—For the ninth 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 three percent of the roughly 10,000 nonprofits evaluated have achieved this recognition for nine consecutive times. The coveted ranking indicates the Salk Institute outperforms most other charities in America in regard to executing best fiscal practices and carrying out its mission in a financially efficient way.


Salk’s donors give record-breaking $89 million in FY19 to fuel scientific discoveries

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today that it received more than $89 million from 1,204 individual donors and private grant makers in fiscal year 2019 (ending in June) to support the Institute’s world-renowned science. The amount is the most raised from private donors in the past decade and accounts for 49 percent of Salk’s FY19 revenue.


Unlocking the black box of embryonic development

LA JOLLA—Little is known about the molecular and cellular events that occur during early embryonic development in primate species. Now, an internationally renowned team of scientists in China and the United States has created a method to allow primate embryos to grow in the laboratory longer than ever before, enabling the researchers to obtain molecular details of key developmental processes for the first time. This research, while done in nonhuman primate cells, can have direct implications for early human development.


Salk Institute hits play on new podcast series

LA JOLLA—A new podcast series called Where Cures Begin launches this week and features one-on-one conversations with Salk researchers working at the forefront of their respective scientific fields, from cancer and neuroscience to plant biology, circadian science and more. The eight episodes of season 1, which will be released weekly beginning October 30, 2019, include interviews with the following Salk scientists:


Mysterious microproteins have major implications for human disease

LA JOLLA—As the tools to study biology improve, researchers are beginning to uncover details into microproteins, small components that appear to be key to some cellular processes, including those involved with cancer. Proteins are made up of chains of linked amino acids and the average human protein contains around 300 amino acids. Meanwhile, microproteins have fewer than 100 amino acids.


Salk scientists receive $12.9 million from NIH BRAIN Initiative

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists Nicola AllenEiman AzimMargarita Behrens, and Joseph Ecker have been named recipients in the 2019 round of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to better understand the brain.


Salk scientists awarded $14.3 million to map circuitry for movement, such as reaching and grasping

LA JOLLA, CA—A team of Salk scientists led by Professor Martyn Goulding has been awarded $14.3 million over five years by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create a high-resolution atlas of how the mouse brain generates and controls skilled forelimb movements, such as reaching and grasping. Knowledge generated by the grant will provide a better understanding of not only how the brain controls movement, but also how it is affected by neurological diseases and spinal cord injuries that compromise arm, wrist and hand function.


Stem cell study offers new way to study early development and pregnancy

LA JOLLA—Although graduating from school, a first job and marriage can be important events in life, some of the most significant events happen far earlier: in the first few days after a sperm fertilizes an egg and the cell begins to divide.


Novel technique helps explain why bright light keeps us awake

LA JOLLA—In recent decades, scientists have learned a great deal about how different neurons connect and send signals to each other. But it’s been difficult to trace the activity of individual nerve fibers known as axons, some of which can extend from the tip of the toe to the head. Understanding these connections is important for figuring out how the brain receives and responds to signals from other parts of the body.


Salk scientist Tony Hunter receives National Cancer Institute Outstanding Investigator Award

LA JOLLA, CA—Salk scientist Tony Hunter has received a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Outstanding Investigator Award (OIA), which supports accomplished leaders in cancer research. Hunter, who is an American Cancer Society Professor, will receive more than $7,500,000 over the next seven years to further his work. According to the NCI, the award supports investigators who are providing significant contributions toward understanding cancer and developing applications that may lead to a breakthrough in cancer research.


Mapping normal breast development to better understand cancer

LA JOLLA—Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers, and some forms rank among the most difficult to treat. Its various types and involvement of many different cells makes targeting such tumors difficult. Now, Salk Institute researchers have used a state-of-the-art technology to profile each cell during normal breast development in order to understand what goes wrong in cancer.


Machine learning helps plant science turn over a new leaf

LA JOLLA—Father of genetics Gregor Mendel spent years tediously observing and measuring pea plant traits by hand in the 1800s to uncover the basics of genetic inheritance. Today, botanists can track the traits, or phenotypes, of hundreds or thousands of plants much more quickly, with automated camera systems. Now, Salk researchers have helped speed up plant phenotyping even more, with machine-learning algorithms that teach a computer system to analyze three-dimensional shapes of the branches and leaves of a plant. The study, published in Plant Physiology on October 7, 2019, may help scientists better quantify how plants respond to climate change, genetic mutations or other factors.


Salk scientists find way to quantify how well cutting-edge microscopy technique works

LA JOLLA—In 2017, Salk scientists reported that tilting a frozen protein sample as it sat under an electron microscope was an effective approach to acquiring better information about its structure and helping researchers understand a host of diseases ranging from HIV to cancer. Now, they have developed a mathematical framework that underlies some of those initial observations.