November 21, 2013
Jumping Genes and Jumbled Genomes



Fred "Rusty" Gage and his team hit two home runs recently, publishing papers about the genetics of the brain in the most prestigious scientific journals, Science and Nature, within the space of just a few of weeks.


In the Nature paper, the Salk scientists for the first time turned skin cells from chimpanzee and bonobo into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), a type of cell that has the ability to form any other cell or tissue in the body. When they compared them to human iPSCs, they found disparities in the regulation of jumping genes or transposons---- DNA elements that can copy and paste themselves into spots throughout the genome---- between humans and non-human primate cells. The human DNA had far less jumping gene activity, suggesting our genomes are more stable than those of our primate cousins.


While still just a theory, Gage wonders if this may serve as a stabilizing force for human culture. "A cultural innovation like art or language might be more likely to persist," Gage told Ed Yong of National Geographic. "If you have a unique event, like say a Picasso invents cubism, and you introduce it into the pack, it has a greater chance of being assimilated into the culture. "


In the Science paper, Gage reports finding that our brains contain a patchwork of genetic variation, meaning individual neurons contain different genomes that other neurons. This means that one neuron could be functioning on a different genetic operating system than its neighbors. This may help explain certain aspects of neurological disorders and help us adapt to changes in our surroundings. "Far from being a rare, dangerous fluke," Carl Zimmer of National Geographic wrote of the study in a second article, "...mosaic neurons turn out to be abundant in our brains."


From left: Salk scientists Ahmet Denli, Carol Marchetto, I˝igo Narvaiza and Fred Gage


Links to the National Geographic articles:



We are pleased to welcome Alan Saghatelian as the newest faculty member to Salk upon the unanimous recommendation by the Appointments Committee. Dr. Saghatelian will join the Institute as a Professor in the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology when he opens his laboratory in 2014. Currently an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, his research is focused on proteomics and metabolomics.


Scientific discovery at the Salk Institute is made possible through annual contributions from individuals, organizations, corporations and foundations. Your support will accelerate the pace of breakthroughs in understanding disease and pave the way to new drug therapies.

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Women & Science 

For the fifth presentation in Salk's Women & Science program, Clodagh O'Shea spoke about her lab's work in designing viruses that can search out and destroy tumor cells. Approximately eighty people listened on November 6 as the associate professor from the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory explained that cancer's complexity requires sophisticated therapeutic agents. Her lab is using knowledge of the common cold virus, adenovirus, to create synthetic viruses that can act like guided missiles, specifically infecting and replicating in tumor cells before bursting them apart to release thousands of virus progeny. These progeny then seek out and destroy distant metastases while overcoming all possible resistance. The research being performed in O'Shea's lab presents enormous potential for effectively treating cancer patients.

For more information on the Salk Women & Science Initiative, please contact Betsy Reis at (858) 500-4883 or via email at




Salkexcellerators are professionals from varied sectors in San Diego and New York City who share a commitment to supporting scientific discovery at Salk. Members receive invitations to social events throughout the year featuring talks by Salk scientists on the most critical health-related issues of the 21st century. Join us for fascinating findings, friends and fun!


Salkexcellerators support an annual fellowship for talented postdoctoral scholars, like Jonathan Nassi, Ph.D., this year's fellowship recipient.


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For more information, please contact Megan Shockro at 858 453-4100 ext. 1405 or visit
  Salk in the News 

Salk took the spotlight again as one of 5 free things in San Diego, Beyond Surf and Sand. The article, which garnered national and international media attention, was issued by the Associated Press and highlights the Institute's world-renowned architecture and the immensely popular free-guided tours offered to the public.
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Salk is pleased to offer a FREE guided ARCHITECTURE tour with an introduction about the Institute's science, Monday through Friday at 11:45 a.m. Reservations are required. Click here to register╗
Science Images 

This month's image is courtesy of Carol Marchetto from the Gage Laboratory of Genetics at Salk. Pictured are skin cells from bonobos (pigmy chimps).  The cells were reprogrammed to pluripotent stem cells, an advance that allows scientists to study the differences between the neurons of humans and chimps.
Each month our featured image will provide a shot of art and science. Download the image and use it as your desktop computer wallpaper, smartphone background or facebook timeline photo.
Question of the Month


These microscope images of HeLa cells, show DNA (blue), nuclear pore complexes (red), and a protein, Nup358 (green), that make up these pore complexes. HeLa cells have a fascinating and controversial history, which was recently the subject of a bestselling book. 


What is the book-and where does the cells' name, HeLa, come from?


Image: Courtesy of William Light, Salk Institute for Biological Studies;

Post your answer to our Facebook page:


One randomly chosen winner from the entries with the correct answer will win a special memento of Salk merchandise. (Your choice of a t-shirt or coffee cup.) 


Salk Central  

Looking for previous issues of Salk Central?  View the archives here╗ 
Issue: 10    
Women & Science
Salk in the News
Science Images.
Question of the Month

Upcoming Events



Glenn Center for Aging Research Symposium

December 6, 2013




Crick-Jacobs Symposium

December 19, 2013




Salk Science and Music Series

Yoonie Han, Pianist

January 26, 2014




Salk, Fondation IPSEN, Nature Symposium

January 29-31, 2014




Salk Science and Music Series

Joe Locke & Geoffrey Keezer

February 23, 2014





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