Controlling root growth direction could help save crops and mitigate climate change
LA JOLLA—Above ground, plants stretch toward the sun. Below ground, plants tunnel through the earth. As roots soak up water and nutrients from surrounding soil, they grow and stretch to develop distinct root system architectures. The root system architecture determines whether roots remain in the shallow soil layers or grow steeper and reach deeper soil layers. Root systems are central to plant survival and productivity, determining the plant’s access to nutrients and water and, therefore, the plant’s ability to withstand nutrient depletion and extreme weather like drought.
Salk Professor Joanne Chory honored with Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professor Joanne Chory has been selected by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to receive a Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science for her achievements in plant science. She will receive a 14-karat gold medal and a $10,000 honorarium at the Franklin Institute Awards Ceremony in April 2024. Chory joins other extraordinary scientists and engineers as a Franklin laureate, including Nikola Tesla, Marie and Pierre Curie, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Jane Goodall, among others.
Iron influences plant immunity and may promote resiliency against climate change
LA JOLLA—Plants and animals alike rely on iron for growth and regulation of microbiomes—collections of bacteria, fungi, and more that co-exist in places like the human gut or the soil around a plant’s roots. Plants face a special challenge when acquiring iron, since the strategies plants use to increase iron availability alter the root microbiome and can inadvertently benefit harmful soil-dwelling bacteria.
Salk teams assemble first full epigenomic cell atlas of the mouse brain
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute researchers, as part of a worldwide initiative to revolutionize scientists’ understanding of the brain, analyzed more than 2 million brain cells from mice to assemble the most complete atlas ever of the mouse brain. Their work, published December 13, 2023 in a special issue of Nature, not only details the thousands of cell types present in the brain but also how those cells connect and the genes and regulatory programs that are active in each cell.
Seven Salk scientists named among best and most highly cited researchers in the world
LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joseph Ecker, Ronald Evans, Satchidananda Panda, Rusty Gage, and Kay Tye, as well as Assistant Professor Jesse Dixon, have been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate. The 2023 list includes 6,849 researchers from 67 countries, all of whom demonstrate “significant and broad influence reflected in their publication of multiple highly cited papers over the last decade.” This is the ninth consecutive year that Ecker and Gage have made the list. Joseph Nery, a research assistant II in the Ecker lab, was also included on the list.
“A new era in brain science”: Salk researchers unveil human brain cell atlas
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute researchers, as part of a larger collaboration with research teams around the world, analyzed more than half a million brain cells from three human brains to assemble an atlas of hundreds of cell types that make up a human brain in unprecedented detail.
Seeing the insides of plants in 3D
LA JOLLA—The cellular life inside a plant is as vibrant as the blossom. In each plant tissue—from root tip to leaf tip—there are hundreds of cell types that relay information about functional needs and environmental changes. Now, a new technology developed by Salk scientists can capture this internal plant world at an unprecedented resolution, opening the door for understanding how plants respond to a changing climate and leading to more resilient crops.
Salk Institute receives $50 million from Hess Corporation to mitigate climate change through plant science
LA JOLLA—Hess Corporation is donating $50 million to the Salk Institute’s Campaign for Discovery: The Power of Science, a seven-year, $750 million comprehensive fundraising campaign to attract the people and build the technology and space necessary to accelerate critical research. This gift will specifically advance Salk’s Harnessing Plants Initiative—an effort to mitigate climate change by optimizing plants and supporting wetlands to increase capture of excess atmospheric carbon—and provide vital infrastructure for this work by establishing the new Hess Center for Plant Science.
Salk Institute Professors Joanne Chory and Wolfgang Busch to speak at PlantACT!
LA JOLLA—PlantACT! Plants for Climate Action, a European initiative founded to unite plant science experts in the effort to mitigate climate change, will welcome Salk Professors Joanne Chory and Wolfgang Busch to an upcoming two-day event in New York City. The event, called Growing a Resilient Society and hosted by the University of Cologne New York Office and partners, will feature a free public panel discussion with Chory and an invite-only experts’ workshop research presentation by Busch.
Ten Salk professors named among best and most highly cited researchers in the world
LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joseph Ecker, Ronald Evans, Rusty Gage, Christian Metallo, Satchidananda Panda, Reuben Shaw, and Kay Tye, along with Assistant Professor Jesse Dixon, have been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate. This year’s list includes 6,938 researchers from 69 countries and identifies researchers who demonstrate “significant influence in their chosen field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers.” Ecker and Gage have been named to this list every year since 2014, when the regular annual rankings began. Joseph Nery, a research assistant II in the Ecker lab, was also included on the list.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.