LA JOLLA—Neurons have long enjoyed the spotlight in neuroscience—and for good reason: they are incredibly important cellular actors. But, increasingly, star-shaped support cells called astrocytes are being seen as more than bit players in the brain’s rich pageant.
LA JOLLA—(June 1, 2017) Once we start coloring our hair, we may be surprised to learn that we begin to have a problem in common with plant biologists: finding the right dye for our roots. In the case of the biologists, just the right chemical is needed to measure exactly how plant roots grow. Now, a researcher at the Salk Institute has discovered a fluorescent dye that, paired with other imaging techniques, reveals root growth to be influenced by a major plant hormone more than previously thought.
LA JOLLA—Scientists have, for the first time, characterized the molecular markers that make the brain’s front lines of immune defense—cells called microglia—unique. In the process, they discovered further evidence that microglia may play roles in a variety of neurodegenerative and psychiatric illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases as well as schizophrenia, autism and depression.
LA JOLLA—Just like people, plants need iron to grow and stay healthy. But some plants are better at getting this essential nutrient from the soil than others. Now, a study led by a researcher at the Salk Institute has found that variants of a single gene can largely determine a plant’s ability to thrive in environments where iron is scarce.
LA JOLLA—(May 4, 2017) Salk Institute scientists have developed a novel technology to correct disease-causing aberrations in the chemical tags on DNA that affect how genes are expressed. These types of chemical modifications, collectively referred to as epigenetics or the epigenome, are increasingly being considered as important as the genomic sequence itself in development and disease.
LA JOLLA—Every week, there seems to be another story about the health benefits of running. That’s great—but what if you can’t run? For the elderly, obese or otherwise mobility-limited, the rewards of aerobic exercise have long been out of reach.
LA JOLLA—Two Salk Institute faculty members have been promoted based on their innovative and notable contributions to biological research.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute Board of Trustees welcomes its newest trustees, Jay T. Flatley, MS, and Joon Yun, MD. Chaired by Ted Waitt, the Salk Board helps drive the strategic direction of the Institute founded by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk in 1960.
LA JOLLA—Salk scientists and collaborators have shed light on a longstanding question about what leads to variation in stem cells by comparing induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from identical twins. Even iPSCs made from the cells of twins, they found, have important differences, suggesting that not all variation between iPSC lines is rooted in genetics, since the twins have identical genes.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has received a $3 million award from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research for the second time in 4 years, enabling the Institute to continue investigating the biology of normal human aging and age-related diseases.
LA JOLLA—When scientists talk about laboratory stem cells being totipotent or pluripotent, they mean that the cells have the potential, like an embryo, to develop into any type of tissue in the body. What totipotent stem cells can do that pluripotent ones can’t do, however, is develop into tissues that support the embryo, like the placenta. These are called extra-embryonic tissues, and are vital in development and healthy growth.
LA JOLLA—For roughly one-third of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, lithium is a miracle drug, effectively treating both their mania and depression. But once someone is diagnosed, it can take up to a year to learn whether that person will be among the 30 percent who respond to lithium or the 70 percent who do not.
LA JOLLA—Say you’re reaching for the fruit cup at a buffet, but at the last second you switch gears and grab a cupcake instead. Emotionally, your decision is a complex stew of guilt and mouth-watering anticipation. But physically it’s a simple shift: instead of moving left, your hand went right. Such split-second changes interest neuroscientists because they play a major role in diseases that involve problems with selecting an action, like Parkinson’s and drug addiction.
LA JOLLA—Not everyone is Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson, but even those of us who seem to have two left feet have got rhythm—in our brains. From breathing to walking to chewing, our days are filled with repetitive actions that depend on the rhythmic firing of neurons. Yet the neural circuitry underpinning such seemingly ordinary behaviors is not fully understood, even though better insights could lead to new therapies for disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS and autism.
LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Tony Hunter, who holds an American Cancer Society Professorship, has been awarded $500,000 as part of the $1 million Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ inaugural Sjöberg Prize for Cancer Research for “groundbreaking studies of cellular processes that have led to the development of new and effective cancer drugs.” The prize ceremony, which is modeled after the Nobel Prize ceremony, will be held in Stockholm during the Academy’s annual meeting on March 31, 2017, in the presence of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen of Sweden.
LA JOLLA—FedEx, UPS, DHL—when it comes to sending packages, choices abound. But the most important delivery service you may not have heard of? mRNA. That’s short for messenger RNA, which is how your DNA sends blueprints to the protein-assembly factories of your cells. When a protein is faulty, delivering synthetic mRNA to cells could trigger production of a functional version. And that’s a message people with a variety of genetic diseases want to hear.
LA JOLLA—Most of us would be lost without Google maps or similar route-guidance technologies. And when those mapping tools include additional data about traffic or weather, we can navigate even more effectively. For scientists who navigate the mammalian genome to better understand genetic causes of disease, combining various types of data sets makes finding their way easier, too.
LA JOLLA—Although we spend a lot of our time online nowadays—streaming music and video, checking email and social media, or obsessively reading the news—few of us know about the mathematical algorithms that manage how our content is delivered. But deciding how to route information fairly and efficiently through a distributed system with no central authority was a priority for the Internet’s founders. Now, a Salk Institute discovery shows that an algorithm used for the Internet is also at work in the human brain, an insight that improves our understanding of engineered and neural networks and potentially even learning disabilities.
LA JOLLA—Rapid advances in the ability to grow cells, tissues and organs of one species within an organism of a different species offer an unprecedented opportunity for tackling longstanding scientific mysteries and addressing pressing human health problems, particularly the need for transplantable organs and tissues.