Gareth Griffiths, Chair
Now: Professor, Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, Norway
EMBL: Group Leader, 1977-2009, Cell Biology and Biophysics
Profile: Gareth Griffiths came to EMBL as a staff scientist in 1977, working on insect brains before switching to membrane trafficking to develop antigen localization methods for electron microscopy. He was fortunate to become the second person (in 1978) to learn the newly developed method for using cryo sections for immunolabeling by Kiyoteru Tokuyasu, which he has in the meantime taught 1000s of scientists globally. He became a group leader in 1983, applying the Tokuyasu method for a wide range of cell biology questions. In 2009, Gareth became Professor at the Institute of Molecular Biosciences, where his group are developing new nano medicine therapies using biodegradable nano particles to encapsulate drugs or antigens for vaccination. The group’s focus is tuberculosis and cancer.
To-date Gareth continues to organize an annual EMBO EM course which he started in 1979. Additionally, he runs an annual masters course, incorporating components of his EMBL-EMBO Cell Biology courses from the past, highlighting opportunities at EMBL and offering students coaching in science communication in collaboration with former EMBL Head of Communications.
Election statement: “The role of the EAA is to provide support to the Laboratory. EMBL alumni are an important network of former staff, strongly connected to the member states. Many member countries are significantly under-represented in terms of staff at EMBL – despite its reputation, too few people in the member states are aware of the possibilities offered at EMBL. The alumni network is the best avenue to communicate this. On my part, I have been effectively highlighting opportunities at EMBL, and plan to continue building on these and more.”
Jacqueline Mermoud, Vice Chair
Now: Group Leader, Institute for Molecular Biology and Tumor Research, Phillips University Marburg, Germany
Then: Predoc, 1990-1994, Gene Expression
The primary aim of Jacqueline’s research is to understand the general principles that underpin the regulation of gene expression during cellular differentiation and mammalian development. In particular, how chromatin based-mechanisms initiate and maintain transcriptional silence and heritable instructions to preserve cellular identity and the correct proliferation status and what are the pathways and key players responsible. Most recently Jacqueline has addressed questions relating to epigenetic inheritance. To pass an intact genome from one generation to the next requires the re-establishment of the correct chromatin structure after its disruption by the passage of the replication fork. Jacqueline’s lab discovered that ATP-dependent chromatin remodeling plays an early, priming role in this process, required for the maintenance of epigenetic modifications to heterochromatin. Currently she is developing a project to understand the role of chromatin remodeling in stem cell biology. To complement her scientific career development, Jacqueline has been involved in science communication and business administration, completing a mini MBA. As a member of the EMBL Alumni Association board, she hopes to raise issues concerning the current challenging times with increased competition for diminishing research funding and fewer available research posts after post doctoral training, and to help the alumni community ensure that the investment in training, which is the cornerstone of the EMBL experience, is not wasted.
Election statement: “I am enthusiastic about the role of the EAA board in supporting the alumni and maintaining their links with EMBL as it continues to grow as a world leading research institute. I am keen to explore fundraising opportunities so we can develop and advance the initiatives of the Association for all alumni.”
Roberto di Lauro, Vice Chair
Now: Scientific Attaché, Italian Embassy, London, UK
EMBL: Group Leader, 1986-1991, Genome Biology
Profile: Roberto di Lauro is currently science attachè at the Italian Embassy in London where he is responsible for curing connections between the Italian and British scientific and technological communities. As group leader at EMBL, Roberto worked on cell-type specific gene expression, using the thyroid cell as a model. He isolated several transcription factors exclusively expressed in thyroid, demonstrating their additional role in controlling normal thyroid gland development and their involvement in the pathogenesis of congenital hypothyroidism. After leaving EMBL in 1991, Roberto tought genetics to medical students at the University Federico II and continued his research on thyroid development at the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn in Naples. Roberto established a new research facility on mouse genetics in Ariano Irpino and was appointed President of the Stazione Zoologica from 2007 to 2011. Roberto has served several scientific boards including the EMBO Council, the EMBL Scientific Advisory Board (SAC), the Human Frontier Science Programme, and the European Research Council (ERC).
Election statement: “The period spent at EMBL significantly marked all alumni. We shared a passion for science and were infused with the culture of excellence. We also established a network of friends and colleagues that has accompanied us in our personal and professional lives ever since. The EAA should maintain and export these values and, in doing so, provide support to EMBL.”
Annabel Goulding, Treasurer
Now: Treasurer to the Meridian Society; Company Secretary to Tangent Films Ltd, London, UK
EMBL: Head of Pay and Benefits, 2002–2011, Administration
Profile: Annabel joined EMBL as an internal auditor in 2002 and left as the Head of the Pay and Benefits section in human resources in 2011, also serving as interim Head of HR for a year during this time. She continues to work as a consultant for the Laboratory in her area of expertise.
As Treasurer to the Meridian Society - a charity for the promotion of Chinese culture in the UK, and Secretary to Tangent Films Ltd – a company specialising in arts and science documentaries, Annabel handles financial transactions and prepares cost budgets as well as accounts and annual reports, making her suitably qualified for this position.
Election statement: “I am interested in the role of EMBL alumni as holders of the Laboratory’s collective history and as ambassadors for the Laboratory’s future. In the past two years I have enjoyed interesting discussions about what the Association can do to benefit the alumni community and some challenging questions about the management of its financial affairs. Our 40th anniversary year was a particularly busy and exciting time, and I am pleased to have played a small part in that. Finance is not a popular discipline with everyone, so this niche gives me an opportunity to make a contribution, which I am looking forward to continue.”
Now: Senior Group Leader, Institute for Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA), Vienna, Austria
EMBL: Predoc, 2001-2005, Developmental Biology
Profile: Julius Brennecke started his scientific career in 2001 as a PhD student in Steve Cohen’s Group at EMBL Heidelberg. Here he discovered that bantam—a genetically identified locus involved in growth control in Drosophila—encodes a microRNA. Ever since, his scientific interest has been focused on the world of small RNAs and their diverse functions during development and genome defence. For his postdoctoral training, Julius worked with Greg Hannon at the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratories (CSHL) in New York where he made key discoveries on the piRNA pathway, a germ line specific small RNA silencing system that suppresses selfish genetic elements in animal gonads. Since 2009, Julius has been leading an independent research group at the IMBA in Vienna, where he continues to investigate the genetic and mechanistic framework of the piRNA pathway in Drosophila. Julius is an elected EMBO Member since 2014 and a recipient of the 2009 EMBL Alumni Association John Kendrew Award.
Election statement: “On multiple levels EMBL has served as a role model for molecular biology research in Europe and worldwide. Many challenges remain and new ones are emerging. The interaction between EMBL and the member states via an active Alumni Association is a great addition to other ongoing efforts. My own motivation in the Association will be to help improve the career outlook for young scientists. Science depends on brilliant minds – to keep attracting those, we need to reverse the trend that the scientific career is increasingly losing its perspective for the future talents.”
Now: Group Leader, University of Kent, School of Biosciences, Canterbury, Kent, UK
EMBL: Predoc, 2001-2005, Genome Biology
Profile: Alessia Buscaino conducted her PhD under the supervision of Asifa Akhtar in the Gene Expression Programme (now Genome Biology Unit), where she investigated epigenetic mechanisms underlying Dosage Compensation in Drosophila melanogaster. Upon completion of her PhD in 2005, Alessia moved to the United Kingdom and joined the Allshire laboratory at Edinburgh University. It was there that she obtained an EMBO Long-Term Fellowship to investigate centromere organisation and function in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. In 2013, Alessia obtained an EMBO Short-Term Fellowship to visit the Berman Lab in Tel Aviv to investigate the chromatin status of Candida albicans’ repetitive DNA elements. In the summer of 2013, Alessia established her own lab at the University of Kent working on epigenetic mechanisms controlling genome stability in fungal organisms. Research in her lab is funded by the BBSRC, the MRC and the Royal Society.
Election statement: “Due to the current funding landscape, new investigators are facing important challenges when trying to establish their labs: the need for interdisciplinary, collaborative research programmes is almost a must. As an EAA board member, I would like to promote the organisation of events ‘EMBL-style’, where a mix of science and informal gatherings provide the natural environment for establishing fruitful collaborations among EMBL alumni.”
Now: Research Scientist, Sanofi, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
EMBL: Predoc, 1993-1997, Structural and Computational Biology Unit
Profile: Christian Engel did his PhD with Rik Wierenga in the EMBL Structural Biology and Biocomputing Programme (now Structural and Computational Biology Unit) and with Ken Holmes at the University of Heidelberg on the structure determination of a metabolic enzyme by x-ray crystallography. Between 1998-2001, he joined the group of Gil Privé at the University of Toronto as a DFG- and MRC-funded postdoc. He worked on the structural biology of a transmembrane protein, nowadays widely used for the structure determination of G-protein coupled receptors. Since 2001, Christian has been working as Research Scientist at the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, supporting various Small Molecule and Biologics Projects in early preclinical research and development. This work includes the support of rational drug design using x-ray crystallography and biophysical methods, as well as project management of early drug development.
Election statement: “In recent years, academic labs as well as industry have increasingly realised the importance of collaborations to promote basic science and translate it into applied research and practical medical progress. This is exactly the spirit of collaboration that I experienced during my time at EMBL. To strengthen and foster such collaborations, I’d like to set up a network of EMBL alumni working in industry and the life science business, serving as contacts for future collaborative efforts and as source of information for EMBL associates about non-academic institutions.”
Now: Group Leader, Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), Barcelona, Spain
EMBL: Postdoc and Staff Scientist, 1996-2002, Genome Biology
Profile: After graduating in Biological Sciences at the Autónoma University of Madrid, Fatima Gebauer worked as postdoc in the labs of Joel Richter at the University of Massachusetts, USA and Matthias Hentze at EMBL Heidelberg, where she then became Staff Scientist in 2000. Fatima obtained a Group Leader position at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in 2002. She is now Chair of the CRG Graduate Programme and member of the Board of Directors of the University Pompeu Fabra’s Doctorate School. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the RNA Society. Her research interests include the regulation of mRNA translation during embryonic development and cell homeostasis. Her focus is molecular mechanisms of translational control exerted by RNA-binding proteins (RBPs), the broader functions of RBPs at other steps of gene expression, and how RBP alterations contribute to cancer progression. Fátima is married to EMBL alumnus Juan Valcárcel, and has a daughter born while at EMBL Heidelberg.
Election statement: “Ever since I left EMBL thirteen years ago, I have not stopped communicating with current and past staff. From scientific collaborations to meetings, from using EMBL Core Facilities and panel expertise to just simple advice or friendship, EMBL and its alumni have always been there for me. I would like to contribute and extend this feeling of belonging, to spread the many benefits of networking, and to improve connections between alumni and EMBL, especially at this time when a new EMBL partnership lab is being created in Barcelona.”
Now: Professor of Bioinformatics, Conway Institute, University College Dublin, Ireland
EMBL: Group Leader, 1990-1996, EMBL-EBI
Profile: Des Higgins is Professor of Bioinformatics at the University College Dublin where his lab works on “omics” data analysis and sequence alignment algorithms, maintaining and developing the Clustal package for multiple sequence alignment. Des wrote the first version of this in Dublin in 1988 before moving to the EMBL Data Library group in Heidelberg in 1990, first as a post-doc and later as staff scientist. At EMBL, he worked for Graham Cameron and collaborated heavily with Toby Gibson, who is still at EMBL and who still works on Clustal with Des’ team. In 1994, Des moved with the Data Library to EMBL-EBI in Hinxon where he stayed for two years. This coincided with the release of Clustal W, and later, Clustal X which became widely used and cited. Currently they have run out of letters and now work on Clustal Omega which is designed to make extremely large protein alignments.
Election statement: “As a result of my time at EMBL, I now have a fantastic network of colleagues, friends and collaborators in almost every European country. People who have not spent time working at EMBL are often badly informed as to the extent or value of this. I think the EAA has a key role in advertising and promoting the importance of EMBL in the member states to ensure continued participation by national governments, and supporting active participation by individuals in all the programmes.”
Now: Director IT, One IT Country Lead Germany, MSD Sharp & Dohme GmbH, Haar, Germany
EMBL: IT Manager, 2004–2008, Core Facilities and Scientific Services
Profile: Since leaving EMBL, Mervi Lampinen has worked in many senior IT and E-Commerce positions in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. Mervi is determined and optimistic, realistic and sociable by nature, with a passion for continuous improvement of IT services. Currently she is leading a group of IT professionals at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Garching bei Munich and Chile. She frequently travels to the observatories and enjoys being back in the life of science.
Election statement: “The EAA gives me an opportunity to renew many of my EMBL (alumni) contacts, which I established not only while working as IT Manager, but also during my time as Head of the EMBL Staff Association. I would like to utilise my knowledge and experience in IT, the Internet and e-commerce, to build a digital platform that will enable the Association to better use digital communication, social media, Internet publishing and other modern media.”
Now: Chief Financial Officer, PureTech Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
EMBL: Predoc, 1997-2001, Genome Biology
Profile: After leaving EMBL in 2000, Joep Muijrers became involved in an EMBL spin-off company, Gene Bridges, which he joined as co-founder and business development director. In 2001, he returned to the Netherlands, joining the investment banking department of one of the larger Dutch banks (now part of ABN AMRO). In this position, which he held for 5 years, Joep was involved in financial and strategic transactions for European and US-based life sciences companies. In 2006, he was also involved in technology transfer, heading a team responsible for commercialization of academic findings at the University of Maastricht, as well as the Academic Hospital in Maastricht. In early 2007, Joep became a partner at Life Sciences Partners (LSP), one of Europe's largest investors in life sciences. Since then, he has been investing in biotech companies on both sides of the Atlantic. Joep is married and has 3 children.
Election statement: “The key task of the EAA is to promote the spirit of excellence that characterises EMBL, and to foster collaboration amongst its alumni, many of whom are at the forefront of today’s rapidly changing life sciences sector. As an active investor in companies focused on the life sciences, and based on my experience and knowledge in raising funds for European- and US-based life science companies, I believe I may have a synergistic perspective on how to promote fruitful collaboration between academia and business.”
Now: Head of Communications and External Relations, Institute for Research in Biomedicine Barcelona (IRBB), Spain
EMBL: OIPA Officer, 1999-2007, OIPA
Profile: Sarah Sherwood, member of OIPA at EMBL from 1999-2007, is now Head of Communications and External Relations at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona. At IRB Barcelona, Sarah’s specific areas of activity include overseeing press and media relations, website and institutional publications including annual reports and newsletters, scientific course and conference organization, as well as a wide range of outreach and education activities. Over the years, Sarah’s team have had successful collaborations with the ELLS team at EMBL in running LearningLabs for local high school teachers, which have been a great success and are now part of IRB’s core activities. IRB is currently launching its own alumni network for the 800+ alumni who have passed through the labs over the past 10 years.
Election statement: “Interactions with the EMBL community have come in many forms for me - meeting up with ex-colleagues at events, collaborating on projects, or simply a quick phone call to ask for advice. For me, this typifies the value of the EMBL Alumni Association. It provides a real and practical framework to stay connected to an incredible network of talented and resourceful people. It also allows us to give back to that community. Having spent many years of my time at EMBL helping establish the Association, and the past 4 years contributing as a member of the Board, I hope to continue to serve the ever-growing EMBL alumni community."