Joseph Ecker, Ph.D.

Professor and Salk International Council Chair in Genetics and director, Genomic Analysis Laboratory
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator
Salk International Council Chair in Genetics

Dr. Joseph Ecker has been at the forefront of research to decode genomes and was a leader of the international effort to sequence the first plant genome, which was completed in 2000. More recently, he has turned to deciphering the epigenome, the layer of molecular tweaks that act on DNA to turn genes on and off. The epigenetic reference maps developed by Dr. Ecker and his colleagues may have practical uses in studies of plant and human development/disease. His work is revealing that the complicated genetic underpinnings of plants and humans are more similar than common perception. 

He has received many honors for his contributions to the field of genetics/epigenetics. In a study, TIME magazine ranked the work of Dr. Ecker and his team to provide the first detailed map of the human epigenome as the second most important scientific discovery of 2009. In 2011, he received the George W. Beadle Medal for his outstanding contributions to the genetics community. His other accolades include election to the National Academy of Sciences; the John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science; the Martin Gibbs Medal; the International Plant Growth Substances Association Distinguished Research Award; and the Kumho Science International Award.

Funded Research

Project Description Researchers Funding
CIRCUITS: Whole Genome Characterization of DNA Methylation Changes in the Aged and Alzheimer’s Disease Human Brain

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder. Both normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease have been correlated with changes to the patterns of DNA methylation in the brain. DNA methylation is an epigenetic mark with the capacity to stably alter gene expression. The importance of changes to DNA methylation in AD has been difficult to assess. This proposed work would characterize the alterations of genome-wide DNA methylation patterns in post-mortem human neurons in the context of normal aging and AD.