Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Catastrophic fires and devastating floods. Widespread food and water shortages. Destruction of habitats and species extinction at a rate not seen in millions of years. “Do you really want your kids to see that?” was Joanne Chory’s answer to the importance of addressing climate change while being awarded the most prestigious honor in her field, the Breakthrough Foundation’s Life Sciences Prize.

In 2017 Chory, Director of the Plant Biology Laboratory at The Salk Institute, laid out a vision for a new kind of agriculture. She wanted to create “ideal plants” — crops like wheat or rice that are bred to store huge amounts of carbon in their roots. If enough farmers replanted their fields with these engineered species, she said, they could pull as much as 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans out of the atmosphere each year.

Salk Institute Joanne Chory
Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Photo credit: The Washington Post.

That speech would get the attention of foundations and pull in millions of dollars in funding, enabling Chory and her colleagues at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, to expand their lab and facilitate their research. They would identify the genes that make plant roots deep and thick and rich in sugar. Their greenhouses and growth chambers would be crowded with seedlings, and their project would be heralded as a revolutionary solution to the biggest problem on the planet.1

The science demands for Salk dictated a flexible and precise light property adjustability for their research. To accomplish this, we integrated state-of-the-art fixtures that allowed manipulation of light elements such as red/far-red ratio, management of light flickering, and precise geo-defined outdoor light spectra mimicking using multi-channel light-source combinations. - Graham Willson, Conviron Account Manager, USA

One of Chory’s main elements for her research relies on photosynthesis, which she describes as “an everyday miracle." "Powered by nothing more than sunshine, it converts water and carbon dioxide into flower petals and tree trunks, wide green leaves, and spindly stems. Almost all life on Earth owes its existence to this process.”

For her research at the Salk Institute, Chory has been relying on Conviron walk-in and reach-in chambers. The climate-controlled chambers installed at the institute simulate the great majority of climates, allowing Salk researchers to manipulate light, temperature, and humidity.2

Walk in Plant Growth Room with LEDs
Postdoctoral fellow Nicole Gibbs collects samples at the lab. Photo credit: The Washington post.

About Salk Institute

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies opened its doors in 1963. The major study areas are aging and regenerative medicine, cancer biology, immune system biology, metabolism, diabetes, neuroscience, neurological disorders and plant biology. Salk research provides new understanding and potential treatments for a range of diseases, from AIDS and Alzheimer’s to cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Discoveries by plant biologists are paving the way to improving the quality and quantity of the world’s food supply and addressing critical environmental problems, including global warming.

The Institute is supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health, private foundations and individuals who value scientific trailblazing. The March of Dimes, which has backed the Institute since its inception, continues to contribute financially every year.


1. Kaplan, Sarah. “Joanne Chory is using plants to save the planet”. The Washington Post. April 28, 2021.

2. Fikes, Bradley, "Salk Institute unleashes plants on climate issues". The San Diego Union Tribune, November 7, 2017.