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Salk News


Study shines a light into “black holes” in the Arabidopsis genome

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists, collaborating with researchers from the University of Cambridge and Johns Hopkins University, have sequenced the genome of the world’s most widely used model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana, at a level of detail never previously achieved. The study, published in Science on November 12, 2021, reveals the secrets of Arabidopsis chromosome regions called centromeres. The findings shed light on centromere evolution and provides insights into the genomic equivalent of black holes.


Secrets of quillwort photosynthesis could boost crop efficiency

LA JOLLA—The humble quillworts are an ancient group of about 250 small, aquatic plants that have largely been ignored by modern botanists. Now, Salk scientists, along with researchers from the Boyce Thompson Institute, have sequenced the first quillwort genome and uncovered some secrets of the plant’s unique method of photosynthesis—secrets that could eventually lead to the engineering of crops with more efficient water use and carbon capture to address climate change. The findings were published in Nature Communications on November 3, 2021.


Uncovering how injury to the pancreas impacts cancer formation

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Basic Sciences have found that cells in the pancreas form new cell types to mitigate injury, but are then susceptible to cancerous mutations. The research, led by Salk Professor Geoffrey Wahl and Vanderbilt Assistant Professor Kathy DelGiorno, former staff scientist in the Wahl lab, was published in the journal Gastroenterology on October 22, 2021.


Salk Professor Tatyana Sharpee receives ASBMB DeLano Award

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Tatyana Sharpee has won the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s (ASBMB) 2022 DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences. The award is given to a scientist with an innovative development or application of a computer technology that can enhance research in the life sciences at the molecular level.


Long-lived proteins in mitochondria of the brain stabilize protein complexes

LA JOLLA—Mitochondria are known as the powerhouses of the cell, generating the energy that’s needed to fuel the functions that our cells carry out. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have taken a closer look at how mitochondria are maintained in nondividing cells, such as neurons, with the ultimate goal of developing a better understanding of how to prevent or treat age-related diseases. The researchers found that many of the proteins in mitochondria last much longer than expected, and that this stability likely protects them from damage. The findings were published October 28, 2021, in Developmental Cell.


Call-and-response circuit tells neurons when to grow synapses

LA JOLLA—Brain cells called astrocytes play a key role in helping neurons develop and function properly, but there’s still a lot scientists don’t understand about how astrocytes perform these important jobs. Now, a team of scientists led by Associate Professor Nicola Allen has found one way that neurons and astrocytes work together to form healthy connections called synapses. This insight into normal astrocyte function could help scientists better understand disorders linked to problems with neuronal development, including autism spectrum disorders. The study was published September 8, 2021, in the journal eLife.


Salk appoints neuroscientist Pamela Maher as Research Professor

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has appointed neuroscientist Pamela Maher to the position of Research Professor, a non-tenure faculty position, to reflect her achievements conducting groundbreaking research on Alzheimer’s disease. Maher, who has been a senior staff scientist at Salk since 2004, will continue her work screening for compounds that could slow or stop the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. Two of her compounds are currently undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.


How the brain ignores distracting information to coordinate movements

LA JOLLA—As you read this article, touch receptors in your skin are sensing your environment. Your clothes and jewelry, the chair you’re sitting on, the computer keyboard or mobile device you’re using, even your fingers as they brush one another unintentionally—each touch activates collections of nerve cells. But, unless a stimulus is particularly unexpected or required to help you orient your own movements, your brain ignores many of these inputs.


Salk scientists reveal most commonly mutated gene in all cancers

LA JOLLA—For the past fifteen years, cancer researchers have been using DNA sequencing technology to identify the gene mutations that cause different forms of cancer. Now, Salk Assistant Professor Edward Stites and his team of computational scientists have combined gene mutation information with cancer prevalence data to reveal the genetic basis of cancer in the entire population of cancer patients in the United States.


Salk team launches phase 1 clinical trial for Alzheimer’s therapy

LA JOLLA—The investigational Alzheimer’s drug CMS121, developed and studied at Salk over the last fifteen years, has now moved into a phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate its safety in humans. Salk Research Professor Pamela Maher and Bill Raschke of Virogenics, Inc., will receive $4.5 million over two years from the National Institute of Aging to support the trial, and they expect the first doses to be administered to healthy volunteers in early 2022. In mice, CMS121 reverses signs of aging in the brain and prevents the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease.


Salk teams advance efforts to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders, via NIH brain atlas

LA JOLLA—It takes billions of cells to make a human brain, and scientists have long struggled to map this complex network of neurons. Now, dozens of research teams around the country, led in part by Salk scientists, have made inroads into creating an atlas of the mouse brain as a first step toward a human brain atlas.


Salk Assistant Professor Graham McVicker receives Genomic Innovator Award

LA JOLLA—Salk Assistant Professor Graham McVicker has been awarded a National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) Genomic Innovator Award, which supports early-career scientists who conduct innovative, creative research in genomics. The award, which provides $2.85 million over five years, is in recognition of McVicker’s efforts using computational and experimental approaches to investigate how human genetic diversity leads to metabolic, cardiovascular, autoimmune and other diseases.


Peter Adams and Gerald Shadel awarded $13 million from NIH to study aging and liver cancer

LA JOLLA—Sanford Burnham Prebys Professor Peter D. Adams, who directs the Aging, Cancer and Immuno-oncology Program, and Salk Institute Professor Gerald Shadel, who directs the San Diego Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, have been awarded a grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Aging for $13 million, funding a five-year project to explore the connection between aging and liver cancer.


Salk neuroscientist Kay Tye selected as Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Kay Tye has been selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, joining a prestigious group of more than 250 HHMI investigators across the United States who are tackling important scientific questions.


The Salk Institute and Sanford Burnham Prebys license ULK1/2 inhibitors to Endeavor BioMedicines for treatment of cancer

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute, along with Sanford Burnham Prebys, have signed an exclusive licensing agreement with California-based Endeavor BioMedicines for an intellectual property portfolio relating to cancer therapeutics and diagnostics that target ULK1/2, a protein involved in cellular recycling, jointly developed by researchers at Salk and Sanford Burnham Prebys. The negotiations were led by the Salk Office of Technology Development and the Sanford Burnham Prebys Business Development Office.


Salk plant researchers launch collaboration to breed carbon-capturing sorghum

LA JOLLA—Researchers at the Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) have established a five-year, $6.2 million collaboration with Nadia Shakoor, principal investigator and senior research scientist and her team at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to identify and develop sorghum plants that can better capture and store atmospheric carbon.


Research reveals how subtle changes in a microRNA may lead to ALS

LA JOLLA—When people think about the connection between genes and disease, they often envision something that works like a light switch: When the gene is normal, the person carrying it does not have the disease. If it gets mutated, a switch is flipped, and then they do have it.


Philanthropic donations to Salk Institute exceed record-breaking $100M in FY21

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today that philanthropic donors gave more than $100 million to support bold scientific research in fiscal year 2021 (ending in June). The amount is a new record in philanthropic gifts for the Institute, eclipsing the previous record gift total in 2019 by more than $11 million.


Axel Nimmerjahn leads research team awarded $11 million by the U19 Team-Research BRAIN Circuit Program

LA JOLLA—Salk Associate Professor Axel Nimmerjahn is leading a research team that has been awarded $11.2 million by The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, an effort that aims to investigate overarching principles of brain circuit function, including sensation, perception, decision-making and motor control. Nimmerjahn will lead an interdisciplinary five-year project investigating how astrocytes, star-shaped cells in the brain, process and modulate signals from neurons to better understand overall brain function.


Salk Professor Janelle Ayres named inaugural recipient of the Salk Institute Legacy Chair

LA JOLLA—Professor Janelle Ayres has been recognized for her contributions and dedication to advancing science through research by being named the inaugural recipient of the Salk Institute Legacy Chair, effective July 1, 2021.