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Salk Institute
Salk Institute

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is a premier independent, non-profit, scientific research institute located in La Jolla, California[1]. The institute consistently ranks among the top institutions in the US in terms of research output and quality in the life sciences[2]. In 2004, the Times Higher Education Supplement ranked Salk as the world's top biomedicine research institute[3], and in 2009 it was ranked number one globally by ScienceWatch in the neuroscience and behavior areas[4]. It was founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine. Among the founding consultants were Jacob Bronowski and Francis Crick.

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[5] and the Waitt Family Foundation. In addition, the internally administered Innovation Grants Program encourages cutting-edge high-risk research[6]. The institute appointed genome biologist Eric Lander and stem cell biologist Irving Weissman as non-resident fellows in November 2009[7].

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. The original buildings of the Salk Institute were designated as a historical landmark in 1991. The entire 27 acre site was deemed eligible by the California Historical Resources Commission in 2006 for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.


Nobel laureates

The institute has four Nobel laureates on its faculty: Elizabeth Blackburn, Sydney Brenner, Renato Dulbecco and Roger Guillemin. Two of Salk's Nobel laureates are now deceased: Francis Crick and Robert W. Holley. Another five scientists trained at Salk have gone on to win Nobel prizes [8].

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

The institute is currently led by Dr William Brody, who assumed charge from interim President Roger Guillemin on 1 March 2009. There are 59 faculty members (assistant, associate and full professor level). Eight of these are members of the HHMI while more than a quarter[9] 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[10][11][12].

In December 2009, the Time magazine ranked Joe Ecker's mapping of the human epigenome as the #2 biggest scientific achievement of 2009[13].

In May 2008, California announced that it would provide 270 million US dollars for funding CIRM, a joint effort between Salk Institute, UCSD, Burnham Institute and TSRI[14].


360° panorama in the courtyard of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California.

The institute is housed in a modernist complex designed by the firm of Louis Kahn. Michael Duff 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 of a courtyard that separates the two. 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. The basement also houses the transgenic core. Tenured professors also receive a study that has a view of the Pacific ocean.

Most of the laboratories and studies are named after the benefactors, such as the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology[15] and the Razavi Newman Center for Bioinformatics.[16] A library that houses current periodicals, some books and computers is located on the 3rd level of the west end of the North building.[17] The Frederic de Hoffmann auditorium and the Trustees' Room are located in the basement of the east buildings of the institute.


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. 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 for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. 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.

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[18]. 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.


William R. Brody is the President of the Salk Institute as of March 1, 2009. Irwin M. Jacobs is Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Distinguished faculty

See also


External links

32°53′14″N 117°14′46″W / 32.88715092958511°N 117.2462117672°W / 32.88715092958511; -117.24621176719666Coordinates: 32°53′14″N 117°14′46″W / 32.88715092958511°N 117.2462117672°W / 32.88715092958511; -117.24621176719666



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