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Elizabeth Blackburn

Elizabeth Blackburn

Rob Searcey

Elizabeth Blackburn to lead Salk Institute

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, today named Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn as its next president. Blackburn comes to Salk from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she is a professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics. She succeeds physician and scientist William R. Brody and will become the first woman president in the institute’s 55-year history when she takes charge on 1 January.

A molecular biologist born in Hobart, Australia, Blackburn is best known for her 2009 Nobel Prize–winning discovery of telomeres, caps on the ends of chromosomes that protect genetic information from damage and are thought to play an important role in aging and cancer. She also discovered telomerase, an enzyme that repairs and maintains telomere ends. In 2004 Blackburn and ethicist William F. May made headlines when the Bush administration ousted them from the President’s Council on Bioethics for their strong public support of human embryonic stem cell research. (Among her replacements was Benjamin Carson, now seeking the Republican nomination for president.)

Founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, the Salk Institute focuses on aging and regenerative medicine, immune system biology, metabolism and diabetes, neuroscience, and plant biology.

Blackburn says she hopes to use the new position at Salk to advocate for and educate the public about the importance of basic research. She also wants to help Salk maintain and expand its access to cutting-edge technologies such as new advances in light microscopes.

Salk feels like “a natural transition,” says the 66-year-old Blackburn. But she told ScienceInsider that she plans to continue pursuing basic science into her “ruling passion: understanding how life works.”