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Salk News


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.


New study targets Achilles’ heel of pancreatic cancer, with promising results

LA JOLLA—Advanced pancreatic cancer is often symptomless, leading to late diagnosis only after metastases have spread throughout the body. Additionally, tumor cells are encased in a “protective shield,” a microenvironment conferring resistance to many cancer treatment drugs. Now, Salk Institute researchers, along with an international team of collaborators, have uncovered the role of a signaling protein that may be the Achilles’ heel of pancreatic cancer.


Salk promotes three leading scientists in the fields of infectious disease, neurobiology and biological networks

LA JOLLA—Three Salk Institute faculty members have been promoted after the latest round of faculty reviews determined they are scientific leaders who have made original, innovative and notable contributions to biological research.


Salk Institute initiative to receive more than $35 million to fight climate change

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative to combat climate change using plants, led by Professor Joanne Chory, executive director of the Harnessing Plants Initiative, will receive funding of more than $35 million from over 10 individuals and organizations through The Audacious Project, a highly competitive program housed at TED, the nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading. The collective commitments represent one of the largest gifts to a single project in the Institute’s history.


Salk professor Kay Tye honored with endowed chair

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Kay Tye has been recognized for her contributions and dedication to advancing science through research by being named to the Wylie Vale Chair.


Salk mourns the passing of Nobel Laureate and Salk Distinguished Professor Emeritus Sydney Brenner

LA JOLLA—Nobel Laureate and Salk Distinguished Professor Emeritus Sydney Brenner passed away on April 5, 2019, in Singapore at the age of 92. Over the course of six decades, Brenner shaped the modern understanding of the genetic code.


New role for a driver of metastatic cancers

LA JOLLA—Metastatic ovarian, prostate and breast cancers are notoriously difficult to treat and often deadly. Now, Salk Institute researchers have revealed a new role for the CDK12 protein. The findings were published in the print version of Genes & Development on April 1, 2019.


When neurons are out of shape, antidepressants may not work

LA JOLLA—Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medication for major depressive disorder (MDD), yet scientists still do not understand why the treatment does not work in nearly thirty percent of patients with MDD. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered differences in growth patterns of neurons of SSRI-resistant patients. The work, published in Molecular Psychiatry on March 22, 2019, has implications for depression as well as other psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia that likely also involve abnormalities of the serotonin system in the brain.


Like mountaineers, nerves need expert guidance to find their way

LA JOLLA—(March 22, 2019) Similar to the dozens of Sherpas that guide hikers up treacherous Himalayan mountains to reach a summit, the nervous system relies on elaborate timing and location of guidance cues for neuronal axons—threadlike projections—to successfully reach their destinations in the body. Now, Salk Institute researchers discover how neurons navigate a tricky cellular environment by listening for directions, while simultaneously filtering out inappropriate instructions to avoid getting lost. The findings appeared in Neuron on March 19, 2019.


How attention helps the brain perceive an object

LA JOLLA—It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for. In a famous example, people were asked to closely observe two groups of people—one group clad in black, the other in white—pass a ball among themselves. Viewers were asked to count the number of times the ball passed from black to white. Remarkably, most observers did not notice a man in a gorilla suit, walking among the players. This ability of the brain to ignore extraneous visual information is critical to how we work and function, but the processes governing perception and attention are not fully understood. Scientists have long theorized that attention to a particular object can alter perception by amplifying certain neuronal activity and suppressing the activity of other neurons (brain “noise”).


Guardians of the synapse: scientists identify a new role for nerve-supporting cells

LA JOLLA—Salk researchers have found, for the first time, that a blood-clotting protein can, unexpectedly, degrade nerves—and how nerve-supporting glial cells, including Schwann cells, provide protection. The findings, published March 14, 2019, in the journal PLOS Genetics, show that Schwann cells protect nerves by blocking this blood-clotting protein as well as other potentially destructive enzymes released by muscle cells. The work could have implications for diseases as diverse as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia.