• Margarita Salas: "Understanding how brain works is the main key for the future of biology"

    February 16, 2011

    The Asturian biochemist opened the cycle of lectures organized by the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Oviedo.

    Margarita Salas

    From the first discoveries of Molecular Biology to the last progresses in genetic therapy: The Asturian Biochemist Margarita Salas revised more than fifty years of the history and evolution of biomedicine in the conference held yesterday in the Auditorium of the University of Oviedo. Salas, who inaugurated the cycle of lectures organized by the Campus of International Excellence, relied on the advance of genetic therapies and pointed out that the main key to the future of Biology depends on discovering how the brain works.

    The rector, Vicente Gotor, thanked the participation of Margarita Salas in the International Advisory Council of the Campus of Excellence of the University of Oviedo, a consultative body which met on the 16th of February to evaluate the report of activities of 2010, and he assured that the Asturian biochemist was one of the most relevant scientists in the national and international scenario.

    The professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Carlos López Otín was in charge of presenting Salas and he did so revealing his admiration for her. López- Otín remembered Salas' "rigor and precision" when teaching. He stressed that she and her husband, Eladio Viñuela, "deserve the prize for the best scientific sculptors that have ever been in Spain".

    Due to her wide experience and through her conference, Margarita Salas went all over the main discoveries which opened the path in biomedical research. Avery, McLeod and McCarthy, James Watson and Francis Crick; Rosalind Elsie Franklin; Arthur Kornberg and Severo Ochoa introduced us the principal contributions of biotechnology not only in the pharmaceutical, environmental and farming spheres but also in the study of human genome.

    Salas remembered the date of the 15th of February of 2001, ten years ago, in which Science and Nature magazines published the first draft of human genome's sequence. The first surprise, she said, was the low number of genes (25.000) which contained, when comparing with the 19.000 that worms own or the 6.000 of yeast. Following this line, the biochemist and Asturian academic made a reference about the chimpanzee's genome, which shares the 99% of genes with humans. What does the genome tell us? She wondered, "Not so much. The hypothesis about what makes the difference between humans and chimpanzees is the expression of genes; which is what reports our humanity".

    Salas warned about "the dangers of genomania", which is the thought that the differences or similarities are determined by genetics, when it's the environment in which the subject is grown, the one which determines them. The International Consortium Project of the Genome of Cancer, in which López- Otín takes part, "is a very important work as the acquired knowledge will allow us to improve the diagnosis and the treatment of the disease", and she also trusted in the success of the genetic therapy and pharmacology so that in future, it can be possible to insert a normal gene where there is an altered gene now. During her lecture, Margarita Salas explained some ethical issues linked to scientific advances, a field which still requires a social debate.

    Which are the main challenges for Biology? Salas declared that brain's running is still unknown. "Little information about brain has been discovered. This will be the main key for the future". We won't cease researching, indicated the biochemist in the final part of her lecture, "at the end, we'll get to know the molecular bases of disease not also to prevent it but to cure it".