August 2016


I'm so pleased to share with you the exciting news highlighted in this month's newsletter. Among many developments, you will read about a recently released ranking by the journal Nature that places Salk Institute as one of the leading scientific "stars" in North America based on high-quality output that has grown particularly fast.

The recent discoveries featured below provide more evidence that our scientists are indeed stars! Terry Sejnowski and his team collaborated with University of California, San Diego researchers, for instance, to study the flight patterns of birds. Joe Noel's team discovered a plant molecule --- once regarded as a biological dead end --- that is offering new leads into the development of hardier plants. Ursula Bellugi and UCSD researchers (led by a former Gage-lab postdoc) collaborated on a study that sheds light on complex social disorders. Meanwhile, the lab of John Reynolds uncovered critical details into the neurobiology of vision.

Being part of the whole, vibrant Salk community is a continuing honor and delight. I'm very much looking forward to Symphony at Salk, which returns this Saturday to the Institute for its 21st year. This will be my first concert under the stars and I hope many of you will join me for the celebration of music and life-changing scientific discovery. 
Yours in Discovery, 
Elizabeth Blackburn 

Disregarded plant molecule actually a treasure

The enzyme that degrades phaseic acid (blue) appears briefly in response to light during early seed germination.
Joseph Noel and colleagues revealed an unexpected role for a small, often overlooked molecule in plants called phaseic acid, which has historically been cast as an inactive byproduct. By using an array of cutting-edge biological approaches, the team showed that phaseic acid is likely important for survival and suggests that phaseic acid and its receptors probably co-evolved to become crucial for drought resistance and other survival traits. The insights, published in Cell, may inform the development of new, hardier crops that can weather natural disasters wrought by climate change.

Neurodevelopmental model of Williams syndrome offers insight into human social brain
Ursula Bellugi
In a study spanning molecular genetics, stem cells and the sciences of brain and behavior, 
researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute have created a neurodevelopmental model of a rare genetic disorder. The disorder, called Williams syndrome, results in developmental delays, yet relative strengths in language use and face processing that result in a hyper-social predisposition.  
The labs of Ursula Bellugi and Rusty Gage in conjunction with UCSD were able to directly observe the behavior of cells with the genetic profile of WS. The cross-disciplinary research not only suggests potential new treatments for this behavioral syndrome but could also help scientists to better understand the fundamental biological processes underlying social interactions.

From left_ John Reynolds and Anirvan Nandy
From left: John Reynolds and Anirvan Nandy
When it comes to recognizing shapes, timing is everything

A new study from John Reynolds' lab reveals more about how the brain processes vision, which could contribute to new therapies or visual prosthetics. Bursts in a neuron's electrical activity----the number of "spikes" that result when brain cells fire----make up the basic code for perception, according to traditional thought. But neurons constantly speed up and slow down their signals. The Reynolds lab, as detailed in Neuron, found that being able to see the world relies on not just the number of spikes but the timing of those spikes as well.

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Scientists discover how birds soar to great heights

Terry Sejnowski and collaborators at the University of California, San Diego uncovered how birds are able to integrate sensory information to navigate wind patterns and successfully soar in turbulent air. The team created a computer model in which a simulated bird learned to fly through turbulence using reinforcement learning techniques. The insights, published in PNAS, might inform new designs for flying machines like drones.
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Olympic Athletes Still Use Some Rx Drugs As A Path To 'Legal Doping'

Ronald Evans talks with NPR on how discoveries in metabolism research could be used by athletes:
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Rising stars

The Salk Institute ranks as one of the leading scientific "stars" in North America with high-quality research that has grown particularly fast, according to a new report by Nature Research. This report, called the Nature Index, evaluated over 8,000 scientific institutions across the globe to assess which institutes are producing high-quality results based on publications in a group of top-tier journals. 

Salk is listed among the top 25 institutions in all of North America in the "Regional Stars" section of the index, along with other esteemed centers such as Stanford University and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. These institutions dramatically increased their contribution to a selection of top natural science journals from 2012-2015. While Salk has always been a top-ranking research organization, the last few years have seen incredible growth in our number of scientific discoveries thanks to our phenomenal faculty, scientists and staff, advances in technology, and fundraising support.

Conrad Prebys
In memoriam

With the death of Conrad Prebys in July, the Salk Institute lost a visionary and supportive friend whose philanthropy to the Institute spanned years, aiding researchers in discovering the next generation of breakthrough medical therapies.

Prebys' support of the Institute was felt in many ways. In 2014, he gave $25 million, the largest gift to date for the Institute's unrestricted endowment, which funds basic research. Since 2009, he also underwrote the San Diego Symphony for the annual gala Symphony at Salk, and he contributed $2 million to establish the Conrad T. Prebys Endowed Chair in Vision Research for Professor Thomas Albright. He further supported and helped shape Salk as a member of the Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2014.

The entire Salk community honors the memory of Prebys and his commitment to biomedical science. He will be greatly missed.

Inside Salk cover
Hot off the presses

The summer edition of Inside Salk will land in mailboxes soon. This issue highlights Salk's epigenomics research, the immune system's power to heal or harm, and other discoveries and news from around the Institute.

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Symphony header image
Symphony at Salk is this Saturday. Do you have your ticket to the hottest show in town?

"When Love Transforms" is the theme for the August 20 concert under the stars showcasing Tony Award-winning actress Kelli O'Hara and the San Diego Symphony under the direction of guest conductor Maestro Thomas Wilkins. In addition to Tchaikovsky's waltz from Sleeping Beauty and Broadway showstoppers, your ticket includes a cocktail reception and gourmet supper.

Tickets are selling quickly! To purchase, contact Makena Diaz at (858) 587-0657 or for more information.


Salk Architecture for download

Salk Institute 10010 N Torrey Pines Rd | La Jolla | CA | 92037 |

Salk Institute | 10010 N Torrey Pines Rd | La Jolla | CA | 92037