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Salk scientist Ursula Bellugi elected to National Academy of Sciences

LA JOLLA - Salk Institute professor Ursula Bellugi, who pioneered the study of the biological foundation of language, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy made the announcement today during its 144th annual meeting in Washington, DC. Election to the Academy recognizes distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, and is considered one of the highest honors accorded a U.S. scientist.

Dr. Bellugi, director of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, is regarded as the founder of the neurobiology of American Sign Language, since her research revealed that there are primary linguistic systems, passed down from one generation of deaf people to the next, which have been forged into a complexly structured language with complex grammatical properties not derived from spoken languages.

Before, it had been assumed that the organizational properties of language are connected with the sounds of speech. Her work has led to the finding that the left hemisphere of the human brain has an innate predisposition for language, even for a language in which spatial and visual processing plays a central role. This predisposition of certain brain systems to process language, whether spoken or signed, is a striking demonstration of neuronal plasticity.

During her whole career, Bellugi has been seeking new avenues for understanding the ties between molecular genetics, the brain and cognition. So she reached out across disciplines and assembled a team of experts under the umbrella of a Program Project from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, one of the first of its kind, to help her trace the influence of individual genes on the development and function of the brain. Led by Bellugi, the researchers are looking to Williams syndrome to provide clues to some of the mysteries of the genetic basis of behavior. This puzzling genetically based disorder
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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
Kirchweger@salk.edu
858-453-4100 x1340
Salk Institute
1-May-2007


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