Plant Biology

Recent Discoveries

Salk Institute for Biological Studies - Plant Biology - Recent Discoveries

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Salk Institute’s Joanne Chory awarded prestigious Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

La Jolla—Salk Institute scientist Joanne Chory, one of the world’s preeminent plant biologists who is now leading the charge to combat global warming with plant-based solutions, has been awarded a 2018 Breakthrough Prize for her pioneering work deciphering how plants optimize their growth, development and cellular structure to transform sunlight into chemical energy.


How plant architectures mimic subway networks

LA JOLLA—It might seem like a tomato plant and a subway system don’t have much in common, but both, it turns out, are networks that strive to make similar tradeoffs between cost and performance.


How plants grow like human brains

LA JOLLA—Plants and brains are more alike than you might think: Salk scientists discovered that the mathematical rules governing how plants grow are similar to how brain cells sprout connections. The new work, published in Current Biology on July 6, 2017, and based on data from 3D laser scanning of plants, suggests there may be universal rules of logic governing branching growth across many biological systems.


New method to rapidly map the “social networks” of proteins

LA JOLLA—Salk scientists have developed a new high-throughput technique to determine which proteins in a cell interact with each other. Mapping this network of interactions, or “interactome,” has been slow going in the past because the number of interactions that could be tested at once was limited. The new approach, published June 26 in Nature Methods, lets researchers test millions of relationships between thousands of proteins in a single experiment.


A better dye job for roots—in plants

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.


Helping plants pump iron

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.


Molecular conductors help plants respond to drought

LA JOLLA—We can tell when plants need water: their leaves droop and they start to look dry. But what’s happening on a molecular level?


Disregarded plant molecule actually a treasure

LA JOLLA—The best natural chemists out there are not scientists—they’re plants. Plants have continued to evolve a rich palette of small natural chemicals and receptors since they began to inhabit land roughly 450 million years ago.


Salk researchers chart landscape of genetic and epigenetic regulation in plants

LA JOLLA—A new technique developed by Salk Institute scientists for rapidly mapping regions of DNA targeted by regulatory proteins could give scientists insight into what makes some plants drought tolerant or disease resistant, among other traits.


Grafted plants’ genomes can communicate with each other

LA JOLLA—Agricultural grafting dates back nearly 3,000 years. By trial and error, people from ancient China to ancient Greece realized that joining a cut branch from one plant onto the stalk of another could improve the quality of crops.


Here comes the sun: cellular sensor helps plants find light

LA JOLLA—Despite seeming passive, plants wage wars with each other to outgrow and absorb sunlight. If a plant is shaded by another, it becomes cut off from essential sunlight it needs to survive.


Cellular damage control system helps plants tough it out

LA JOLLA–As food demands rise to unprecedented levels, farmers are in a race against time to grow plants that can withstand environmental challenges–infestation, climate change and more. Now, new research at the Salk Institute, published in Science on October 23, 2015, reveals details into a fundamental mechanism of how plants manage their energy intake, which could potentially be harnessed to improve yield.


Salk plant biologist Julie Law named Rita Allen Foundation Scholar

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute plant biologist Julie Law has been named a Rita Allen Foundation Scholar, a distinction given to biomedical scientists whose research holds exceptional promise for advancing the frontiers of knowledge about how biological systems function in health and disease.


Joanne Chory elected to the American Philosophical Society

Salk scientist Joanne Chory, a professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, has received the prestigious honor of being elected to the American Philosophical Society (APS). The APS is an eminent scholarly organization of international reputation, which promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities. This country’s first learned society, the APS has played an important role in American cultural and intellectual life for over 250 years.


Salk scientists Joseph Ecker and Dennis O’Leary elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences

LA JOLLA–Salk Institute Professors Joseph Ecker and Dennis O’Leary have received the prestigious honor of being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) class of 2015. One of the nation’s most prominent honorary societies, AAAS are among the 197 accomplished leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts accepted to this year’s class. Its members include winners of the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize; MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships; and Grammy, Emmy, Oscar and Tony Awards.


Analysis of African plant reveals possible treatment for aging brain

LA JOLLA—For hundreds of years, healers in São Tomé e Príncipe—an island off the western coast of Africa—have prescribed cata-manginga leaves and bark to their patients. These pickings from the Voacanga africana tree are said to decrease inflammation and ease the symptoms of mental disorders.


Natural plant compound prevents Alzheimer’s disease in mice

LA JOLLA—A chemical that’s found in fruits and vegetables from strawberries to cucumbers appears to stop memory loss that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease in mice, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have discovered. In experiments on mice that normally develop Alzheimer’s symptoms less than a year after birth, a daily dose of the compound—a flavonol called fisetin—prevented the progressive memory and learning impairments. The drug, however, did not alter the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain, accumulations of proteins which are commonly blamed for Alzheimer’s disease. The new finding suggests a way to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms independently of targeting amyloid plaques.


Scientists identify thousands of plant genes activated by ethylene gas

LA JOLLA, CA—It’s common wisdom that one rotten apple in a barrel spoils all the other apples, and that an apple ripens a green banana if they are put together in a paper bag. Ways to ripen, or spoil, fruit have been known for thousands of years-as the Bible can attest-but now the genes underlying these phenomena of nature have been revealed.


Smoke signals: How burning plants tell seeds to rise from the ashes

LA JOLLA, CA—In the spring following a forest fire, trees that survived the blaze explode in new growth and plants sprout in abundance from the scorched earth. For centuries, it was a mystery how seeds, some long dormant in the soil, knew to push through the ashes to regenerate the burned forest.


Hidden layer of genome unveils how plants may adapt to environments throughout the world

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified patterns of epigenomic diversity that not only allow plants to adapt to various environments, but could also benefit crop production and the study of human diseases.


Plants cut the mustard for basic discoveries in metabolism

LA JOLLA, CA—You might think you have nothing in common with mustard except hotdogs. Yet based on research in a plant from the mustard family, Salk scientists have discovered a possible explanation for how organisms, including humans, directly regulate chemical reactions that quickly adjust the growth of organs. These findings overturn conventional views of how different body parts coordinate their growth, shedding light on the development of more productive plants and new therapies for metabolic diseases.


Two more Salk scientists elected as AAAS Fellows

LA JOLLA,CA—Salk faculty members Joseph Ecker and Joseph Noel have been named as 2012 Fellows by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science. Election as an AAAS Fellow is among the highest honors in American science and scholars are selected by their peers for “scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications,” according to election administrators.


Salk faculty members honored as recipients of new endowed chairs

LA JOLLA,CA—The Salk Institute announced today that professors Edward M. Callaway and Joseph Noel have been appointed to endowed chairs in acknowledgment of their outstanding contributions and dedication to scientific research.


Discovery may help protect crops from stressors

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have discovered a key genetic switch by which plants control their response to ethylene gas, a natural plant hormone best known for its ability to ripen fruit, but which, under stress conditions, can cause wilted leaves, premature aging and spoilage from over-ripening. The findings, published August 30 in Science magazine, may hold the key to manipulating plants’ ethylene on/off switch, allowing them to balance between drought resistance and growth and, therefore, decrease crop losses from drought conditions.


Planting the seeds of defense

LA JOLLA, CA—It was long thought that methylation, a crucial part of normal organism development, was a static modification of DNA that could not be altered by environmental conditions. New findings by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, however, suggest that the DNA of organisms exposed to stress undergo changes in DNA methylation patterns that alter how genes are regulated.


Discovery of plant proteins may boost agricultural yields and biofuel production

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Iowa State University discovered a family of plant proteins that play a role in the production of seed oils, substances important for animal and human nutrition, biorenewable chemicals and biofuels.


Salk scientists discover how plants grow to escape shade

LA JOLLA, CA—Mild mannered though they seem, plants are extremely competitive, especially when it comes to getting their fair share of sunlight. Whether a forest or a farm, where plants grow a battle rages for the sun’s rays.


Salk professor Joanne Chory awarded 2012 Genetics Society of America Medal

LA JOLLA, CA—The Genetics Society of America(GSA) has honored Joanne Chory, Salk Institute professor and director of the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory and Howard H. and Maryam R. Newman Chair in Plant Biology, as the recipient of the prestigious 2012 Genetics Society of America Medal.


Salk scientists receive significant philanthropic support with five distinguished chair appointments

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce the appointment of five faculty members to be recipients of endowed chairs established by philanthropic leaders in support of scientific research.