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New Salk president to join Institute in January

Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD
Image credit: Rob Searcey

The Salk Institute will ring in the New Year with a new president----Nobel Prize-winning biologist Elizabeth Blackburn. Hailing from the University of California, San Francisco, where she has been a professor in the biochemistry and biophysics department for the past 25 years, Blackburn will step into her new role at Salk on January 1, 2016.

Blackburn, who has been a Salk non-resident fellow since 2001, will oversee the Institute's 800-plus scientific staff and direct its globally renowned research objectives. She will also serve as a trustee on the Salk board.

A native of Hobart, Tasmania, Blackburn earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in biochemistry from the University of Melbourne. She received her doctorate in molecular biology from the University of Cambridge, and conducted postdoctoral research at Yale University. She joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley in 1978, and moved to the University of California, San Francisco in 1990, chairing the Department of Microbiology and Immunology from 1993 to 1999.

Science News
Cellular damage control system helps plants tough it out

Jesse Woodson and Joanne Chory
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. New research from Joanne Chory's lab reveals details into a fundamental mechanism of how plants manage their energy intake, which could potentially be harnessed to improve yield. The work was published in
Science and featured in the New York Times.
Gage lab makes discoveries in jumping genes and neurons

From left: Yongsung Kim, Jerome Mertens, Rusty Gage, Carol Marchetto and Son Pham
The Gage lab recently published two exciting papers recently. In Nature, the team showed at a cellular level how bipolar disorder affects the brain and how some neurons are far more responsive to lithium, one of the disorder's treatments.

Salk researchers discovered a new genetic component_ called ORF0_ spread throughout the DNA of humans_ chimps and most other primates. This image shows the locations of ORF0 on human and chimp chromosomes
And in Cell, the lab discovered protein factories hidden in human jumping genes. These sequences of genetic code may produce hundreds or even thousands of previously unknown proteins.
Molecular "brake" stifles human lung cancer

Verma Lab
From left: Salk researchers Yifeng Xia, Eugene Ke, Narayana Yeddula and
Inder Verma
By testing over 4,000 genes in human tumors, Inder Verma's lab uncovered a molecule whose mutation leads to the aggressive growth of a common and deadly type of lung cancer in humans.

This enzyme, called EphA2, normally polices a gene responsible for tissue growth. But when EphA2 is mutated, cellular systems can run amok and quickly develop tumors, as detailed in PNAS.
To scratch an itch is a hairy problem

A cross-section of a mouse dorsal spinal cord shows the close relationship between inhibitory interneurons expressing NPY (red) with touch sensory neurons arising from the hairy skin (green).
Martyn Goulding's lab published a paper in Science lending insights into potential mechanisms of chronic itch, which is caused by a variety of conditions such as eczema, diabetic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis and certain types of cancers. His team uncovered evidence of a dedicated neural pathway that transmits the itchy feeling triggered by a light touch.

'Superhero' microbiome bacteria protect against deadly symptoms during infection

From left: Michelle Lee,
Alexandria Palaferri and Janelle Ayres
In another Salk paper published in Science, Janelle Ayres' lab discovered a strain of microbiome bacteria in mice capable of improving animals' tolerance to infections of the lungs and intestines by preventing
wasting----a common and potentially deadly loss of muscle tissue that occurs in serious infections. If a similarly protective strain is found in humans, it could offer a new avenue for countering wasting, which afflicts patients suffering from sepsis and hospital-acquired infections, many of which are now antibiotic resistant.


Terry Sejnowski
Terrence Sejnowski receives Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has awarded the Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience to Terrence Sejnowski, Salk professor and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory. The $25,000 prize, supported by The Swartz Foundation, recognizes an individual who has produced a significant cumulative contribution to theoretical models or computational methods in neuroscience. 

Ronald Evans
Ron Evans selected to co-lead transatlantic 'Dream Team' of pancreatic cancer researchers

The Salk Institute will co-lead a new transatlantic 'Dream Team' of researchers from the US and UK that will launch a fresh attack on pancreatic cancer. Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), Cancer Research UK and the Lustgarten Foundation selected the team of nearly two dozen researchers and will provide $12 million in funding over three years. Ronald Evans, director of Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and Research Scholar of the Lustgarten Foundation, will co-lead the team. The Dream Team's research project will focus on reprogramming the biology of cells in pancreatic tumors----both the cancer cells as well as the surrounding noncancerous cells upon which the cancer cells rely for support----so the tumors can be stopped. 

Dmitry Lyumkis
Salk Fellows Dmitry Lyumkis and Patrick Hsu receive NIH Director's Early Independence Award

Salk Fellows Dmitry Lyumkis and Patrick Hsu are among 16 scientists nationwide to receive the Director's Early Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award supports junior scientists in their efforts to pursue innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research. 

Lyumkis, who will receive $1.25 million in direct funding over five years, has made groundbreaking innovations in biological imaging using a cutting-edge technology called single-particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM).

Patrick Hsu
Hsu will receive $1 million in direct funding over the next four years to use novel gene-editing techniques to develop therapies for disease.

We have lift off!

The Salk Institute has launched its new website and you are invited to check it out. Featuring a clean and sophisticated design that is easy to navigate from any mobile device or desktop screen, the site reflects the Institute's collaborative culture and vision for the future. All the information you are looking for----from Institute history to today's scientific breakthroughs----is just a click away at

Watch for the new issue of
Inside Salk coming soon!
The winter issue highlights Salk's "idea factories," the scientific core facilities that provide cutting-edge technology and expertise to enable Salk science. This issue also includes the annual Donor Honor Roll with profiles of Institute supporters.

Interested in getting on our mailing list to receive the print version of Inside Salk?


Please join us on Wednesday, December 2, 2015
4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Featuring a presentation by Diana Hargreaves, PhD
"Interior Remodeling for Cancer Defense"

For more information about the Salk Women & Science program
contact Betsy Collins at (858) 500-4883
or via email at

There are four concerts remaining in the third season of the Salk Science & Music Series. Won't you join us?

Each of the concerts in the series feature stunning performances by some of the hottest established and emerging musicians, as well riveting talks about the latest scientific discoveries by Salk scientists.


Institute eye candy

Thanks to Salk's new website, you can have the Institute's iconic courtyard in the palm of your hand or in your office with one of these images for smartphone, tablet or desktop.

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