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Salk Institute for Biological Studies

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Salk Institute for Biological Studies

10010 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA

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The Scripps Research, University of California, Sanford Burnham Prebys M, Burnham Institute: Dunbar M, Scripps Institution of Ocean


Salk institute for biological studies san diego

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is an independent, non-profit, scientific research institute located in La Jolla, San Diego, California, United States. It was founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine; among the founding consultants were Jacob Bronowski and Francis Crick. Building did not start until spring of 1962. The institute consistently ranks among the top institutions in the US in terms of research output and quality in the life sciences. In 2004, the Times Higher Education Supplement ranked Salk as the world's top biomedicine research institute, and in 2009 it was ranked number one globally by ScienceWatch in the neuroscience and behavior areas.


The institute employs 850 researchers in 60 research groups and focuses its research in three areas: molecular biology and genetics; neurosciences; and plant biology. Research topics include cancer, diabetes, birth defects, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, AIDS, and the neurobiology of American Sign Language. The March of Dimes provided the initial funding and continues to support the institute. Current research is funded by a variety of organizations, such as the NIH, the HHMI and private organizations such as Paris-based Ipsen and the Waitt Family Foundation. In addition, the internally administered Innovation Grants Program encourages cutting-edge high-risk research. In 2016 Ted Waitt, founder of computer manufacturer Gateway, Inc., became chair of the board of directors, replacing Qualcomm co-founder Irwin M. Jacobs, who had served for 10 years. The institute appointed genome biologist Eric Lander and stem cell biologist Irving Weissman as non-resident fellows in November 2009.

The campus was designed by Louis Kahn. Salk had sought to make a beautiful campus in order to draw the best researchers in the world. Salk and Kahn – having both descended from Russian Jewish parents that had immigrated to the United States – had a deeper connection than just mere partners on an architectural project. The results of their connection is seen in the design that resulted from their collaboration. The original buildings of the Salk Institute were designated as a historical landmark in 1991. The entire 27-acre (11 ha) site was deemed eligible by the California Historical Resources Commission in 2006 for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Salk institute for biological studies

Nobel laureates

The institute has three Nobel laureates on its faculty: Elizabeth Blackburn, Sydney Brenner, and Roger Guillemin. Three of Salk's 11 Nobel laureates are now deceased: Francis Crick, Robert W. Holley, and Renato Dulbecco. Another five scientists trained at Salk have gone on to win Nobel prizes.

Scientific activities

The institute is organized into several research units, each of which is further composed of several scientific groups, each led by a member of the faculty. Some of these units are:

  • Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory
  • Regulatory Biology Laboratory
  • Structural Biology Laboratory
  • Gene Expression Laboratory
  • Laboratory of Genetics
  • Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory
  • Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory
  • Systems Neurobiology Laboratories
  • Computational Neurobiology Laboratory
  • Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory
  • Chemical Biology and Proteomics Laboratory
  • Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis Laboratory
  • The Renato Dulbecco Laboratories for Cancer Research
  • Elizabeth Blackburn is the President of the Salk Institute since 1 January 2016. Irwin M. Jacobs is Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Edward Callaway is the chair of the academic council. There are 56 faculty members (assistant, associate and full professor level). Six of these are members of the HHMI while more than a quarter are members of the NAS.

    In terms of research output measured by number of publications and citations, the institute is recognized as one of the world's leading institutions in several areas of biology, but especially so in neurosciences and plant biology.

    In December 2009, the Time magazine ranked Joseph R. Ecker's mapping of the human epigenome as the #2 biggest scientific achievement of 2009.

    In May 2008, California announced that it would provide 270 million US dollars for funding CIRM. The Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, a joint effort between Salk Institute, UCSD, Burnham Institute and TSRI, received $43 million from this funding.


    Salk and Kahn approached the city of San Diego in March 1960 about a gift of land on the Torrey Pines Mesa and were granted their request after a referendum in June 1960. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, known today as the March of Dimes, provided the initial funding. Construction began in 1962 and a handful of researchers moved into the first laboratory in 1963. Additional buildings housing more laboratories as well as the organizational administrative offices were constructed in the 1990s, designed by Anshen & Allen.

    As a memorial to Jonas Salk, a golden engraving lies on the floor at the entrance to the institute: "Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality."

    Francis Crick held the post of J.W. Kieckhefer Distinguished Research Professor at the Salk Institute. His later research centered on theoretical neurobiology and attempts to advance the scientific study of human consciousness. He remained in this post at the Salk Institute until his death in 2004.

    50th anniversary celebration

    From 22–27 April 2010, the Salk Institute hosted glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly to celebrate 50 years of its inception. The event was underwritten by Irwin Jacobs, chairman of the board of trustees.


    The institute is housed in a complex designed by the firm of Louis Kahn. Jack MacAllister, FAIA, of the Kahn firm was the supervising architect and a major design influence on the structure that consists of two symmetric buildings with a stream of water flowing in the middle travertine-paved central plaza that separates the two. In the beginning the buildings were made up of different kinds of cement mixes. Kahn wanted to see what kind of mixture would best work as well as look the best. Each mixture had a different color. In the basement of the complex, there are different colored cement walls because Kahn was experimenting with the mixtures. Kahn also added wood to the complex. Kahn wanted the wood and the cement to complement each other. The buildings themselves have been designed to promote collaboration, and thus there are no walls separating laboratories on any floor. There is one floor in the basement, and two above it on both sides. The lighting fixtures have been designed to easily slide along rails on the roof, in tune with the collaborative and open philosophy of the Salk Institute's science. Inside the laboratories the ducts and vents are reinforced by concrete Vierendeel trusses supported by post-tensioned columns. The authorities at the time were very cautious due to the fact that they felt these trusses would not be able to hold in case of an earthquake, but in a tour de force of structural design, the engineer was able to achieve twice the ductility that a steel frame could offer. At first Kahn wanted to put a garden in the middle of the two buildings. As construction continued, Kahn did not know what shape it should take. Kahn saw an exhibit of Luis Barragan's work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Kahn invited Baragan to collaborate on the court that separated the two buildings. Barragan told Kahn that he should not add one leaf, nor plant, not one flower, nor dirt. Instead, make it a plaza with a single water feature. The resulting space is considered the most impressive element of the entire design.

    According to A. Perez, the concrete was made with volcanic ash relying on the basis of ancient Roman concrete making techniques, and as a result gives off a warm, pinkish glow. This "pozzolanic" concrete was then only vibrated as needed structurally, leaving a lightly textured wall face. The basement also houses the transgenic core. Each laboratory block has five study towers, with each tower containing four offices, except for those near the entrance to the court, which only contain two. A diagonal wall allows each of the thirty-six scientists using the studies to have a view of the Pacific, and every study is fitted with a combination of operable sliding and fixed glass panels in teak wood frames. Originally the design also included living quarters and a conference building, but they were never actually built.

    Most of the laboratories and studies are named after the benefactors, such as the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology and the Razavi Newman Center for Bioinformatics. A library that houses current periodicals, some books and computers is located on the 3rd level of the west end of the North building. The Conrad T. Prebys auditorium and the Trustees' Room are located in the basement of the east buildings of the institute.

    In the courtyard is a citrus grove containing several orderly rows of lime trees. The original grove contained orange and kumquat trees which were then replaced with lime trees in the 1995 grove refurbishment. Plans are currently underway to substitute semi-dwarf Valencia oranges. This replacement is due primarily to a need to remove current trees for structural repairs and waterproofing of central plant ceilings. The trees will be mulched and used for ground cover in compliance with project commitments to sustainability. The decision not to replant additional lime trees stems from dissatisfaction with the manner in which the current trees defoliate and turn yellow in the shade. The Valencia compensates for shade by producing additional chlorophyll in shaded sections, becoming greener.

    The Salk Institute’s open environment teeming with empty space is symbolic of an open environment for creation, the symmetry stands for scientific precision, and submerging crevasses allow warm, natural light to enter the buildings like the intellectual light that leads to discovery. The contrast between balance and dynamic space manifests a pluralistic invitation for scientific study in structures developed to accommodate their respective functions as parts of a research facility. Although modern in appearance, it is essentially an isolated compound for individual and collaborative study, not unlike monasteries as sanctuaries for religious discovery, and they are thought to have directly influenced Kahn in his design. Ultimately, the Salk Institute’s meaning can be interpreted as transcending function and physical place as a reflection of Western civilization’s pursuit of truth through science.

    In 2014, the Getty Conservation Institute partnered with the Salk Institute to preserve the concrete and teak building which is, due to its coastal location, subject to the punishing rigors of a marine environment.

    Training program

    Although the Salk Institute is not a degree-granting institution, it runs a graduate program together with the neighboring UCSD, and all Salk Institute professors receive adjunct appointments in the Division of Biological Sciences at UCSD. In addition, several faculty members are affiliated with other programs such as the Neuroscience Graduate Program and the Cellular and Molecular Medicine. The students pursue either a Ph.D. or an M.D/Ph.D. degree.

    In addition, the institute employs postdoctoral scholars and staff scientists who receive training for academic leadership.

    Distinguished faculty

  • Joanne Chory, renowned plant scientist, member of the National Academy of Sciences and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
  • Elizabeth Blackburn (current president of Salk Institute), Nobel laureate (for work on telomeres and telomerase with Carol Grieder and Jack Szostak).
  • Sydney Brenner, Nobel laureate (for work with Caenorhabditis elegans)
  • Roger Guillemin, Nobel laureate (for elucidating the structures of neurohormones TRH and GnRH)
  • Ursula Bellugi, founder of the neurobiology of American Sign Language
  • Joseph Ecker, Plant geneticist and biologist, renowned expert on epigenetics in plant and animals, member of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Terrence Sejnowski, renowned computational neuroscientist, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
  • Ronald M. Evans, winner of the Lasker Award, March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology.
  • Fred H. Gage, highly cited neuroscientist.
  • Inder Verma, highly cited researcher in cancer and gene therapy, Editor-in-chief of PNAS journal.
  • Tony Hunter, discoverer of tyrosine phosphorylation of proteins.
  • Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, prominent developmental biologist.
  • Francis Crick (deceased), Nobel laureate (for DNA double helix structure description).
  • Leslie Orgel (deceased), former Senior Fellow and Research Professor
  • Marguerite Vogt (deceased), virologist.
  • Leo Szilard (deceased), Nuclear physicist, invented radioactive cobalt cancer treatment.
  • Renato Dulbecco (deceased), Nobel laureate (for viral transformation of cells).
  • References

    Salk Institute for Biological Studies Wikipedia

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