SALK NEWS

Salk Institute for Biological Studies - SALK NEWS

Salk News


Salk Institute Professor Geoffrey Wahl receives 2022 Susan G. Komen® Brinker Award

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Geoffrey Wahl has received the 2022 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science from Susan G. Komen®, the world’s leading breast cancer organization. According to the foundation, the award recognizes leading scientists who have made the most significant advances in breast cancer research and medicine. Wahl was honored for his significant contributions to the field of cancer genetics, including the mechanisms of drug resistance and genome stability. He will present a keynote lecture at the 45th annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in early December 2022.


Time-restricted eating improves health of firefighters

LA JOLLA—Firefighters are the heroes of our society, protecting us around the clock. But those 24-hour shifts are hard on the body and increase the risk of cardiometabolic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as cancer. In collaboration with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, scientists from the Salk Institute and UC San Diego Health conducted a clinical trial and found that time-restricted eating improved measures of health and wellbeing in firefighters. The lifestyle intervention only required the firefighters to eat during a 10-hour window and did not involve skipping meals.


Salk Institute and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) team up to study museum visitor behavior

LA JOLLA—Clay vessels of innumerable shapes and sizes come to life as they illuminate a rich history of symbolic meanings and identity. Some museum visitors may lean in to get a better view, while others converse with their friends over the rich hues. Exhibition designers have long wondered how the human brain senses, perceives, and learns in the rich environment of a museum gallery.


Salk Institute to lead $126 million effort to map the aging human brain

LA JOLLA—With a five-year, $126 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a team led by Salk Institute scientists has launched a new Center for Multiomic Human Brain Cell Atlas. Part of the NIH’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative, the project aims to describe the cells that make up the human brain in unprecedented molecular detail, classify brain cells into more precise subtypes, and pinpoint the location of each cell in the brain. What’s more, the team will track how these features change from early to late life.


Aggression de-escalation gene identified in fruit flies

LA JOLLA—The brain mechanisms that cause aggressive behavior have been well studied. Far less understood are the processes that tell the body when it’s time to stop fighting. Now, a new study by Salk scientists identifies a gene and a group of cells in the brain that play a critical role in suppressing aggression in fruit flies.


Beyond neurons: How cells called astrocytes contribute to brain disorders

LA JOLLA—Neurons often get most of the credit for keeping our brains sharp and functioning—as well as most of the blame when it comes to brain diseases. But star-shaped cells called astrocytes, another abundant cell in the human brain, may bear the brunt of the responsibility for exacerbating the symptoms of some neurodevelopmental disorders. Salk Institute scientists have now identified a molecule produced by astrocytes that interferes with normal neuron development in Rett, fragile X and Down syndromes.


How light and temperature work together to affect plant growth

LA JOLLA—Plants lengthen and bend to secure access to sunlight. Despite observing this phenomenon for centuries, scientists do not fully understand it. Now, Salk scientists have discovered that two plant factors—the protein PIF7 and the growth hormone auxin—are the triggers that accelerate growth when plants are shaded by canopy and exposed to warm temperatures at the same time.


How the brain gathers threat cues and turns them into fear

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists have uncovered a molecular pathway that distills threatening sights, sounds and smells into a single message: Be afraid. A molecule called CGRP enables neurons in two separate areas of the brain to bundle threatening sensory cues into a unified signal, tag it as negative and convey it to the amygdala, which translates the signal into fear.


New target identified for treatment of premature aging disease

LA JOLLA—A stretch of DNA that hops around the human genome plays a role in premature aging disorders, scientists at the Salk Institute and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have discovered. In people with early aging, or progeria, RNA encoded by this mobile DNA builds up inside cells. What’s more, the scientists found that blocking this RNA reverses the disease in mice.


Discovery advances the potential of gene therapy to restore hearing loss

LA JOLLA—Scientists from the Salk Institute and the University of Sheffield co-led a study that shows promise for the development of gene therapies to repair hearing loss. In developed countries, roughly 80 percent of deafness cases that occur before a child learns to speak are due to genetic factors. One of these genetic components leads to the absence of the protein EPS8, which coincides with improper development of sensory hair cells in the inner ear. These cells normally have long hair-like structures, called stereocilia, that transduce sound into electrical signals that can be perceived by the brain. In the absence of EPS8, the stereocilia are too short to function, leading to deafness.


Scientists find surprising link between mitochondrial DNA and increased atherosclerosis risk

LA JOLLA— Mitochondria are known as cells’ powerhouses, but mounting evidence suggests they also play a role in inflammation. Scientists from the Salk Institute and UC San Diego published new findings in Immunity on August 2, 2022, where they examined human blood cells and discovered a surprising link between mitochondria, inflammation and DNMT3A and TET2—two genes that normally help regulate blood cell growth but, when mutated, are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis.


Making a memory positive or negative

LA JOLLA—Researchers at the Salk Institute and colleagues have discovered the molecule in the brain responsible for associating good or bad feelings with a memory. Their discovery, published in Nature on July 20, 2022, paves the way for a better understanding of why some people are more likely to retain negative emotions than positive ones—as can occur with anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Salk researchers discover how RNA processing goes awry in rare immune disease

LA JOLLA—Researchers at the Salk Institute and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have discovered a new underlying cause of Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a rare genetic disease that leads to bleeding and immune deficiencies in babies. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications on June 25, 2022, revolve around how cells cut and paste strands of RNA in a process called RNA splicing. The genetic mutations associated with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, they found, disrupt this process which, in turn, prevents numerous immune and anti-inflammatory proteins from being made correctly.


The best offense is a great defense for some carnivorous plants

LA JOLLA–Insect-eating plants have fascinated biologists for more than a century, but how plants evolved the ability to capture and consume live prey has largely remained a mystery. Now, Salk scientists, along with collaborators from Washington University in St. Louis, have investigated the molecular basis of plant carnivory and found evidence that it evolved from mechanisms plants use to defend themselves.


Renowned plant molecular geneticist Mary Lou Guerinot joins Salk Institute as Nonresident Fellow

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has named plant molecular geneticist Mary Lou Guerinot a Nonresident Fellow, a group of eminent scientific advisors that guide the Institute’s leadership. Guerinot holds the Ronald and Deborah Harris Professorship in the Sciences and is a professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth College, where she was the first woman to chair a science department.


Salk Research Professor Todd Michael receives $2 million to build a genome repository for the cassava plant

LA JOLLA–Research Professor Todd Michael will receive nearly $2 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to sequence the genomes of multiple lineages of the cassava plant, a large starchy root vegetable also known as yuca root consumed in more than 80 countries around the world. A better understanding of cassava genetics will help researchers and plant breeders develop more productive disease- and drought-resistant plants for the future.


Imaging solves mystery of how large HIV protein functions to form infectious virus

LA JOLLA—Understanding how HIV replicates within cells is key for developing new therapies that could help nearly 40 million people living with HIV globally. Now, a team of scientists from the Salk Institute and Rutgers University have for the first time determined the molecular structure of HIV Pol, a protein that plays a key role in the late stages of HIV replication, or the process through which the virus propagates itself and spreads through the body. Importantly, determining the molecule’s structure helps answer longstanding questions about how the protein breaks itself apart to advance the replication process. The discovery, published in Science Advances on July 6, 2022, reveals a new vulnerability in the virus that could be targeted with drugs.


Salk Institute names Gerald Joyce senior vice president and chief science officer

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has named Gerald Joyce, a professor in the Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics, to the position of senior vice president and chief science officer.


Salk Institute mourns the loss of Professor Emeritus Walter Eckhart

LA JOLLA—Professor Emeritus Walter Eckhart, who served as director of the Salk Institute’s National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center and head of the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory for more than 30 years, died suddenly on June 21, 2022, at his home in La Jolla, California. He was 84.


Hair-raising research: Salk scientists find surprising link between immune system, hair growth

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists have uncovered an unexpected molecular target of a common treatment for alopecia, a condition in which a person’s immune system attacks their own hair follicles, causing hair loss. The findings, published in Nature Immunology on June 23, 2022, describe how immune cells called regulatory T cells interact with skin cells using a hormone as a messenger to generate new hair follicles and hair growth.