SALK NEWS

Salk Institute for Biological Studies - SALK NEWS

Salk News


Location, location, location: the cell membrane facilitates RAS protein interactions

LA JOLLA—Many cancer medications fail to effectively target the most commonly mutated cancer genes in humans, called RAS. Now, Salk Professor Geoffrey Wahl and a team of scientists have uncovered details of how normal RAS interacts with mutated RAS and other proteins in living cells for the first time. The findings, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 18, 2020, could aid in the development of better RAS-targeted cancer therapeutics.


Experimental drug boosts levels of “good” fats

LA JOLLA—Salk and Scripps Research Institute scientists, along with collaborators at the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, identified two genes that can regulate levels of healthy fats, called FAHFAs, in mice. The team found that the loss of the two genes led to higher-than-normal levels of the beneficial FAHFAs, while blocking the genes’ activity with an experimental drug also increased FAHFA levels.


Salk promotes Wolfgang Busch to full professor

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has promoted Wolfgang Busch to the rank of professor for his groundbreaking contributions to plant biology. The promotion was based on recommendations by Salk faculty and nonresident fellows, and approved by President Rusty Gage and the Institute’s Board of Trustees.


New insights into how genes control courtship and aggression

LA JOLLA—Fruit flies, like many animals, engage in a variety of courtship and fighting behaviors. Now, Salk scientists have uncovered the molecular mechanisms by which two sex-determining genes affect fruit fly behavior. The male flies’ courtship and aggression behaviors, they showed, are mediated by two distinct genetic programs. The findings, both published in eLife on April 21, 2020, demonstrate the complexity of the link between sex and behavior.


Mysterious tuft cells found to play role in pancreatitis

LA JOLLA—Persistent inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis) is a known risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer, the third-deadliest cancer in the United States. Tuft cells—cells sensitive to chemical (chemosensory) changes typically found in the intestines and respiratory tract—had previously been discovered in the pancreas, but their function has largely remained a mystery. Now, a team of Salk scientists led by Professor Geoffrey Wahl and Staff Scientist Kathleen DelGiorno has uncovered the formation of tuft cells during pancreatitis and the surprising role of tuft cells in immunity, using mouse models of pancreatitis. The findings, published in Frontiers in Physiology on February 14, 2020, could lead to the development of new biomarkers to test for pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.


Salk scientist Ronald Evans receives a 2020 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Ronald Evans, Howard Hughes Medical investigator and director of Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, has been awarded a 2020 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award by the NOMIS Foundation, a Swiss foundation that supports high-risk basic research. The award, which totals $2.5M, recognizes scientists for their “outstanding contributions to the advancement of science and human progress through their pioneering, innovative and collaborative research,” according to NOMIS. The award will enable Evans to decode how different parts of the body, including the brain, endocrine glands, gut, liver, immune cells and the microbiome, cooperate to maintain health.


Plant geneticist Todd Michael joins Salk Institute

LA JOLLA—Todd Michael will return to Salk as a research professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, where he will oversee his own research group as well as provide key expertise in genomics to the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI). Michael completed his postdoctoral research at Salk in 2007 under the direction of Professor Joanne Chory, director of Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory and executive director of the Initiative. The non-tenured research professor track was created by Salk in 2018 to attract and retain top talent to the faculty.


Salk Institute appoints Leona Flores as executive director of Salk Cancer Center

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced the hiring of Leona Flores, PhD, as executive director of the Salk Cancer Center, to help oversee administrative and scientific management functions as a member of its leadership team and to provide decision strategy support to the Cancer Center’s director.


Salk minimizes on-site staff and takes additional steps around coronavirus (COVID-19)

LA JOLLA—Due to the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and California Governor Gavin Newsom’s public health order last night for people to stay at home, the Institute is taking additional steps to minimize opportunities for viral transmission through the community.


How plants sound the alarm about danger

LA JOLLA—Just like humans and other animals, plants have hormones. One role of plant hormones is to perceive trouble—whether an insect attack, drought or intense heat or cold—and then signal to the rest of the plant to respond.


Salk Institute adopts precautionary restrictions on travel and cancels March events

March 6, 2020—The Salk Institute announced today that due to the unfolding novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spread, all public events scheduled to be held on the Salk campus through the end of March have been canceled. On Wednesday, the Institute closed its campus to the public and canceled all public tours of the iconic architectural landmark.


Eat less, live longer

LA JOLLA—If you want to reduce levels of inflammation throughout your body, delay the onset of age-related diseases and live longer—eat less food. That’s the conclusion of a new study by scientists from the US and China that provides the most detailed report to date of the cellular effects of a calorie-restricted diet in rats. While the benefits of caloric restriction have long been known, the new results show how this restriction can protect against aging in cellular pathways, as detailed in Cell on February 27, 2020.


The Salk Institute to receive $12.5 million gift from Hess Corporation to accelerate development of plant-based carbon capture and storage

LA JOLLA—Salk’s Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) will receive a $12.5 million gift from Hess Corporation (NYSE: HES) to advance two projects to enhance plants’ natural ability to store carbon and mitigate the effects of climate change: the CRoPS (CO2 Removal on a Planetary Scale) program and the Coastal Plant Restoration (CPR) program. These projects build on the Salk discovery of a crucial gene that will help the team develop plants with larger root systems capable of absorbing and storing potentially billions of tons of carbon per year from the atmosphere.


Altered potassium levels in neurons may cause mood swings in bipolar disorder

LA JOLLA—People with bipolar disorder experience dramatic shifts in mood, oscillating between often debilitating periods of mania and depression. While a third of people with bipolar disorder can be successfully treated with the drug lithium, the majority of patients struggle to find treatment options that work.


Imaging study of key viral structure shows how HIV drugs work at atomic level

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists have discovered how a powerful class of HIV drugs binds to a key piece of HIV machinery. By solving, for the first time, three-dimensional structures of this complex while different drugs were attached, the researchers showed what makes the therapy so potent. The work, which appeared in Science on January 30, 2020, provides insights that could help design or improve new treatments for HIV.


Salk scientists link rapid brain growth in autism to DNA damage

LA JOLLA—Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a unique pattern of DNA damage that arises in brain cells derived from individuals with a macrocephalic form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The observation, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, helps explain what might go awry in the brain during cell division and development to cause the disorder.


The first roadmap for ovarian aging

LA JOLLA—Due to the modern tendency to postpone childbirth until later in life, a growing number of women are experiencing issues with infertility. Infertility likely stems from age-related decline of the ovaries, but the molecular mechanisms that lead to this decline have been unclear. Now, scientists from the U.S. and China have discovered, in unprecedented detail, how ovaries age in non-human primates. The findings, published in Cell on January 30, 2020, reveal several genes that could be used as biomarkers and point to therapeutic targets for diagnosing and treating female infertility and age-associated ovarian diseases, such as ovarian cancer, in humans.


Salk Institute welcomes new trustees Larry Jennings, Jr., and Timothy Schoen

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute Board of Trustees welcomes its newest members, Larry Jennings, Jr., and Timothy Schoen. Chaired by Daniel Lewis, the Salk Board helps drive the direction of the world-renowned biological research facility founded by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk in 1960.


Drug combo reverses arthritis in rats

LA JOLLA—People with osteoarthritis, or “wear and tear” arthritis, have limited treatment options: pain relievers or joint replacement surgery. Now, Salk researchers have discovered that a powerful combination of two experimental drugs reverses the cellular and molecular signs of osteoarthritis in rats as well as in isolated human cartilage cells. Their results were published in the journal Protein & Cell on January 16, 2020.


Mitochondria are the “canary in the coal mine” for cellular stress

LA JOLLA—Mitochondria, tiny structures present in most cells, are known for their energy-generating machinery. Now, Salk researchers have discovered a new function of mitochondria: they set off molecular alarms when cells are exposed to stress or chemicals that can damage DNA, such as chemotherapy. The results, published online in Nature Metabolism on December 9, 2019, could lead to new cancer treatments that prevent tumors from becoming resistant to chemotherapy.