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Salk News

Salk’s Tatyana Sharpee elected 2018 Fellow of American Physical Society

LA JOLLA—Salk Associate Professor Tatyana Sharpee, a member of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, has been elected a 2018 Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) for her outstanding contribution to physics. In particular, she is granted this honor for “advancing our understanding of how neurons represent sensory signals and make decisions by pioneering new methods for analyzing neural responses to natural stimuli and uncovered organizing principles for closed loop behaviors,” according to the organization.

Decoding the structure of an RNA-based CRISPR system

LA JOLLA—Over the past several years, CRISPR-Cas9 has moved beyond the lab bench and into the public zeitgeist. This gene-editing tool holds promise for correcting defects inside individual cells and potentially healing or preventing many human ailments. But the Cas9 system alters DNA, not RNA, and some experts believe that being able to modify RNA ultimately may prove just as useful.

Researchers train robotic gliders to soar

LA JOLLA—The words “fly like an eagle” are famously part of a song, but they may also be words that make some scientists scratch their heads. Especially when it comes to soaring birds like eagles, falcons and hawks, who seem to ascend to great heights over hills, canyons and mountain tops with ease. Scientists realize that upward currents of warm air assist the birds in their flight, but they don’t know how the birds find and navigate these thermal plumes.

Tweaking cells’ gatekeepers could lead to new way to fight cancer

LA JOLLA—If the cell nucleus is like a bank for DNA, nuclear pores are the security doors around its perimeter. Yet more security doors aren’t necessarily better: some cancer cells contain a dramatic excess of nuclear pores.

Research in yeast leads to serendipitous finding about a central nervous system disorder

LA JOLLA—Studying the fundamental aspects of biology can sometimes lead to unexpected findings that directly relate to human disease. In one of the latest examples of scientific serendipity, researchers from the Salk Institute found that an important quality control mechanism in baker’s yeast is closely connected to hypomyelinating leukodystrophy, a debilitating disease found in children.

New method of pinpointing cancer mutations could lead to more targeted treatments

LA JOLLA—Cancer cells often have mutations in their DNA that can give scientists clues about how the cancer started or which treatment may be most effective. Finding these mutations can be difficult, but a new method may offer more complete, comprehensive results.

Electron microscopy provides new view of tiny virus with therapeutic potential

LA JOLLA—The imaging method called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) allows researchers to visualize the shapes of biological molecules with an unprecedented level of detail. Now a team led by researchers from the Salk Institute and the University of Florida is reporting how they used cryo-EM to show the structure of a version of a virus called an AAV2, advancing the technique’s capabilities and the virus’ potential as a delivery vehicle for gene therapies.

The alchemy of healing: researchers turn open wounds into skin

LA JOLLA—Plastic surgery to treat large cutaneous ulcers, including those seen in people with severe burns, bedsores or chronic diseases such as diabetes, may someday be a thing of the past. Scientists at the Salk Institute have developed a technique to directly convert the cells in an open wound into new skin cells. The approach relies on reprogramming the cells to a stem-cell-like state and could be useful for healing skin damage, countering the effects of aging and helping us to better understand skin cancer.

A master switch controls aggressive breast cancer

LA JOLLA—A team at the Salk Institute has identified a master switch that appears to control the dynamic behavior of tumor cells that makes some aggressive cancers so difficult to treat. The gene Sox10 directly controls the growth and invasion of a significant fraction of hard-to-treat triple-negative breast cancers.

Eating in 10-hour window can override disease-causing genetic defects, nurture health

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute found that mice lacking the biological clocks thought to be necessary for a healthy metabolism could still be protected against obesity and metabolic diseases by having their daily access to food restricted to a 10-hour window.

What’s that smell? Scientists find a new way to understand odors

LA JOLLA—Every smell, from a rose to a smoky fire to a pungent fish, is composed of a mixture of odorant molecules that bind to protein receptors inside your nose. But scientists have struggled to understand exactly what makes each combination of odorant molecules smell the way it does or predict from its structure whether a molecule is pleasant, noxious or has no smell at all.

Salk’s donors give $48.5 million to support scientific innovation in FY18

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced today that it received more than $48 million from 1,100 individual donors and private grant makers in fiscal year 2018 to support the Institute’s groundbreaking science. In addition, government partners (e.g., the National Institutes of Health) provided 47 federal grants totaling more than $55 million to Salk researchers working in the areas of cancer, plant science, neuroscience, metabolism and others.

A switch to turn fragrances on and off

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute and Purdue University scientists have discovered the switch in plants that turns off production of terpenoids—carbon-rich compounds that play roles in plant physiology and are used by humans in everything from fragrances and flavorings to biofuels and pharmaceuticals.

Salk Institute receives $2 million for cancer research initiative

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced a $2 million gift in support of its new Conquering Cancer Initiative from its current Board of Trustees Chair, Dan Lewis, and his wife, Martina Lewis. The funds will be used to advance the Salk Cancer Center’s highest research priorities, including new investigations into five of the deadliest cancers: lung, pancreatic, brain (glioblastoma), ovarian and triple-negative breast.

Distinguished neuroscientist Kay Tye to join Salk Institute

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced that distinguished neuroscientist Kay Tye will join the Salk faculty in January 2019 as a full professor. She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Cells agree: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

LA JOLLA—We’ve all heard the expression: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Now, research led by a Salk Institute scientist suggests why, at a cellular level, this might be true. The team reports that brief exposures to stressors can be beneficial by prompting the cell to trigger sustained production of antioxidants, molecules that help get rid of toxic cellular buildup related to normal metabolism.

Bribing bacteria to play nicely is good for everyone

LA JOLLA—Antibiotic use is driving an epidemic of antibiotic resistance, as more susceptible bacteria are killed but more resilient strains live on and multiply with abandon. But if antibiotics aren’t the end-all solution for infectious disease, what is?

Joint Statement from Salk President Dr. Rusty Gage, on behalf of the Salk Institute, and Salk Professors Drs. Kathy Jones and Vicki Lundblad

When each of us joined the Salk Institute, we signed on to a bold and collective mission far bigger and far more important than our work as individual scientists. Over the last year, the Institute’s collective nature has been put to the test, having entered into uncharted territory amidst very public litigation. As we have moved through the legal process, however, we have been reminded that, whatever our differences, we must never lose sight of our aspiration to work for the betterment of humanity and for each other. With that spirit in mind, in recent weeks the Institute’s leadership and Drs. Kathy Jones and Vicki Lundblad commenced discussions in hopes of resolving our disputes. Those productive conversations have led to a resolution of all claims between these parties that will enable us to put our disagreements behind us and move forward together at Salk for the collective good of the Institute and science.

Back to the future: breast cancer reprises pathways found in fetal cells

LA JOLLA—Using just a microscope, Italian surgeon Francesco Durante was struck by the similarities between cells in the most malignant cancers and the embryonic cells of the organ in which the cancer originated.

Widespread connections among neurons help the brain distinguish smells

LA JOLLA—Can you tell the smell of a rose from the scent of a lilac? If so, you have your brain’s piriform cortex to thank. Compared to many parts of the brain, the piriform cortex—which lets animals and humans process information about smells—looks like a messy jumble of connections between cells called neurons. Now, Salk Institute researchers have illuminated how the randomness of the piriform cortex is actually critical to how the brain distinguishes between similar odors.