News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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New technology enables unprecedented glimpse inside single brain cells

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute researchers have developed a new genomic technology to simultaneously analyze the DNA, RNA and chromatin—a combination of DNA and protein—from a single cell. The method, which took five years to develop, is an important step forward for large collaborations where multiple teams are working simultaneously to classify thousands of new cell types. The new technology, published in Cell Genomics on March 9, 2022, will help streamline analyses.

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Plants rely on the CLASSY gene family to diversify their epigenomes

LA JOLLA—What determines how a cell’s genome is regulated to ensure proper growth and development? Turns out, the parts of the genome that are turned on or off in each cell-type or tissue play a major role in this process. Now, a team at Salk has shown that the CLASSY gene family regulates which parts of the genome are turned off in a tissue-specific manner. The CLASSYs essentially control where the genome is marked by DNA methylation—the addition of methyl chemical groups to the DNA that act like tags saying, “turn off.” Because DNA methylation exists across diverse organisms, including plants and animals, this research has broad implications for both agriculture and medicine. The work, published in Nature Communications on January 11, 2022, identifies the CLSY genes as major factors underlying epigenetic diversity in plant tissues.

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Six Salk professors named among most highly cited researchers in the world

LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joanne Chory, Joseph Ecker, Rusty Gage, Satchidananda Panda, Reuben Shaw and Kay Tye have been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate. The list identifies researchers who demonstrate “significant influence in their chosen field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers.” Chory, Ecker and Gage have been named to this list every year since 2014, when the regular annual rankings began. This is Tye’s fifth, Shaw’s third and Panda’s first time receiving the designation. Additionally, Ecker appeared in two separate categories: “plant and animal science” and “molecular biology and genetics” and is one of 3.4 percent of researchers selected in two fields. Joseph Nery, a research assistant II in the Ecker lab, was also included on the list.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Salk Institute among cross-collaborative teams gifted $220 million by Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance

LA JOLLA—A Salk Institute team led by Professor Satchin Panda, along with teams from five other organizations, have been awarded a total of $220 million by the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation’s Human Performance Alliance, whose philanthropic investment aims to transform human health on a global scale through the discovery and translation of the biological principles underlying human performance.

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How plants quickly adapt to shifting environmental conditions

LA JOLLA—Scientists—and gardeners—have long known that plants grow taller and flower sooner when they are shaded by close-growing neighbors. Now, for the first time, researchers at the Salk Institute have shown the detailed inner workings of this process.

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New protein helps carnivorous plants sense and trap their prey

LA JOLLA—The brush of an insect’s wing is enough to trigger a Venus flytrap to snap shut, but the biology of how these plants sense and respond to touch is still poorly understood, especially at the molecular level. Now, a new study by Salk and Scripps Research scientists identifies what appears to be a key protein involved in touch sensitivity for flytraps and other carnivorous plants.

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Salk Professor Wolfgang Busch named first incumbent of the Hess Chair in Plant Science

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Wolfgang Busch has been recognized for his contributions and dedication to advancing science through research by being named the first holder of the Hess Chair in Plant Science, effective April 1, 2021.

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Research catches up to world’s fastest-growing plant

LA JOLLA—Wolffia, also known as duckweed, is the fastest-growing plant known, but the genetics underlying this strange little plant’s success have long been a mystery to scientists. Now, thanks to advances in genome sequencing, researchers are learning what makes this plant unique—and, in the process, discovering some fundamental principles of plant biology and growth.

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Five Salk professors named among most highly cited researchers in the world

LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joanne Chory, Joseph Ecker, Rusty Gage, Reuben Shaw and Kay Tye have been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate. The list identifies researchers who demonstrate “significant influence in their chosen field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers.” Professors Chory, Ecker and Gage have been named to this list every year since 2014, when the regular annual rankings began. This is Professor Tye’s fourth consecutive time and Professor Shaw’s second consecutive time receiving the designation. Joseph Nery, a research assistant II in the Ecker lab, was also included on the list.

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Salk Institute and Sempra Energy announce project to advance plant-based carbon capture and storage research

SAN DIEGO and LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute and Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE) today announced a new project to advance plant-based carbon capture and sequestration research, education and implementation to help address the climate crisis. Sempra Energy is donating $2 million to the Salk Institute to help fund the five-year project.

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Joanne Chory wins the 2020 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize

Joanne Chory, who pioneered the application of molecular genetics to plant biology and transformed our understanding of photosynthesis, will receive the 2020 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, Rockefeller’s preeminent award recognizing outstanding women scientists. Chory is the Howard H. and Maryam R. Newman Chair in Plant Biology and director of the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory at The Salk Institute. She is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. Frances Beinecke, former president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, will present the prize in a virtual ceremony hosted by Rockefeller on October 22.

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