How old are your organs? To scientists’ surprise, organs are a mix of young and old cells

Salk scientists discover cellular structures with extreme longevity, leading to insights for age-associated diseases

LA JOLLA—(June 6, 2019) Scientists once thought that neurons, or possibly heart cells, were the oldest cells in the body. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered that the mouse brain, liver and pancreas contain populations of cells and proteins with extremely long lifespans—some as old as neurons. The findings, demonstrating “age mosaicism,” were published in Cell Metabolism on June 6, 2019. The team’s methods could be applied to nearly any tissue in the body to provide valuable information about lifelong function of non-dividing cells and how cells lose control over the quality and integrity of proteins and important cell structures during aging.

“We were quite surprised to find cellular structures that are essentially as old as the organism they reside in,” says Salk Vice President, Chief Science Officer Martin Hetzer, senior author and professor. “This suggests even greater cellular complexity than we previously imagined and has intriguing implications for how we think about the aging of organs, such as the brain, heart and pancreas.”

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Pardee School Hosts Biodiversity Revisited Committee Meeting

Photo: Boston University

The Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University hosted a May 29, 2019 steering committee meeting for a major project by the Luc Hoffman Institute entitled “Biodiversity Revisited: Sparking A New Approach To Research For The Biosphere.”

Adil Najam, Dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, chaired the meeting which convened interdisciplinary experts for an intensive collaborative research process to critically evaluate what has come before – and to think creatively about the future of the science and policy that underpin biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity Revisited will create a new research agenda for society to effectively sustain the biosphere.

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Martin Pilhofer named Professor of Cryo-Electron Microscopy at ETH Zurich

Martin Pilhofer (photo: Marco Blessano)

Martin Pilhofer has been appointed Professor of Cryo-Electron Microscopy (Cryo-EM) at ETH Zurich, effective June 1, 2019. Prior to this appointment, Pilhofer held the position of assistant professor in the Department of Biology, Institute of Molecular Biology and Biophysics at ETH.

The Pilhofer lab will investigate macromolecular machines mediating cell-cell interactions across different scales of resolution. Cryo-electron tomography will play a key role in imaging these systems in their cellular context and in a native state, enabling integration of data from other research disciplines. The development of cutting-edge cryo-EM methods will keep ETH at the forefront of structural biology and enable us to better understand diseases and develop new drugs to treat diseases.

Pilhofer received a PhD from the Institute of Microbiology, Technical University of Munich, Germany, in 2008. Following his studies, he was a Postdoc at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) until 2013. He is the recipient of the EMBO Young Investigator Award and a European Research Council Starting Grant.

Funded by the NOMIS Foundation, in cooperation with the Monique Dornonville de la Cour Foundation, the cryo-EM professorship is associated with the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biophysics in the Department of Biology at ETH. The role is integrated into the research activities of the department and encourages new collaborations and interdisciplinary projects. In particular, the professorship  strengthens the link between structural biology and the fields of biochemistry, molecular health sciences, infection biology and systems biology.

World Data Lab results published in The Economist: “Satellite data shed new light on North Korea’s opaque economy”

Viewed from space at night, North Korea looks like the recently released first image of a black hole: an abyss, ringed by the brilliant glow of South Korea, China and Russia, from which nothing can escape. But the Hermit Kingdom does emit a bit of light, which orbiting satellites detect. And nocturnal luminosity is one of the few reliable sources of information about the country. It implies that North Korea’s economy is poorer, more volatile and more vulnerable to weather than formerly thought.

Night lights are a strong proxy for economic activity. A new paper by the imf finds that they explain 44% of the variation in countries’ gdp per person—as close a tie as that between a person’s height and hand size. In places where records are poor or manipulated, night lights offer an alternative measure of output. One study found that among countries with similar luminosity, autocracies reported gdp growth 15-30% higher than democracies did.

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More about the World Data Lab

Salk celebrates 10th anniversary of the NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis

Susan Kaech, director of the NOMIS Center (photo: Salk Institute)

On April 10, 2019, the Salk Institute celebrated the 10th anniversary of the NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis. The anniversary symposium, titled “The Power Within – Harnessing Our Immune System for Better Health,” brought together experts in immunology, virology, and infectious diseases and showcased the contributions of scientists who have made a significant impact in the study of infections and contagious diseases. The event, with talks for both scientists and lay audiences, drew members of the community, scientific leaders, philanthropists and others. A keynote presentation by investigative journalist and author of “Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond” Sonia Shah, capped the event.

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Tony Wyss-Coray’s finding — blocking protein’s activity restores cognition in old mice — published in Nature

Tony Wyss-Coray

“Blocking protein’s activity restores cognition in old mice”

Brain cells called microglia serve as the brain’s garbage crew, scarfing up bits of cellular debris. But their underperformance in aging brains contributes to neurodegeneration. Now, a possible workaround?

By blocking a protein’s activity with antibodies, Stanford University School of Medicine investigators were able to improve cognitive behavior in aging mice.

A paper describing the finding was published online April 3 in Nature. Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences, is the senior author. The lead author is MD-PhD student John Pluvinage.

Wyss-Coray has been working for several years on the question of what causes the brain to lose its acuity with advancing age. One focus of his research has been a class of brain cells called microglia, which serve both as the brain’s immune cells and its garbage crew. Among the many different things microglia do to keep the brain healthy is scarfing up bits of cellular debris and protein deposits that build up in the course of normal metabolic activity.

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