With Dublin being declared the City of Science 2012 for hosting Europe's largest science conferences this year, it seemed like the right time and place to hold the second meeting between EMBL alumni in Ireland,  the EMBL Director General and Science Foundation Ireland, to focus on their roles in supporting science in Ireland.

A half day meeting was hosted by former Pepperkok Team Scientific Project Manager, Jez Simpson, at the University College Dublin, where Jez works as Professor. The primary purpose of the meeting was to review and address the key issue of Ireland’s engagement with EMBL activities and resources, both currently and into the future.

A roundtable discussion provided all attendees with the opportunity to briefly describe their links with EMBL. Specifically highlighted were a number of Ireland-based students sent to EMBL-EBI for training and collaboration; the promotion of the EMBL PhD programme; the role of the University College Cork as the Irish partner for the EMBL PhD programme; and current scientific collaborations with EMBL.

EMBL up-date

Iain Mattaj, EMBL Director General, provided the meeting with an update on the current status of EMBL, giving some specific examples of current projects and an overview of the 2012-2016 scientific plan. Iain also highlighted that there are currently 17 Irish nationals at EMBL, 5 of whom hold senior positions, thereby demonstrating a significant role for Ireland within EMBL.

Science Foundation Ireland up-date 

Stephen Simpson, Director of Life Sciences at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and Marion Boland, Scientific Programme Manager at SFI, gave an overview of the current activities at SFI, including alignment of SFI funding programmes to the new national research priority areas, and the increasing importance that is placed upon partnerships and collaborative science.


Stephen highlighted particular strengths and synergies between Irish researchers and EMBL in the fields of biological imaging and bioinformatics, stressing that these should be two areas for increased cooperation. Increased interaction through the EuroBioImaging initiative would be one mechanism to achieve this.


Stephen, Iain and Walter Koch, Director of Conway Institute and Systems Biology Ireland, discussed the ELIXIR initiative and the mechanisms by which Ireland could engage with this. Ireland will explore whether it is appropriately positioned as a potential node for this initiative.

Goal for Ireland as Partner Laboratory

Iain and Paul Young, Principal Investigator at University College Cork, initiated a discussion about the role and model of the new EMBL partner laboratories, in particular in the context of the example from Finland. Iain described the setup of these labs, and that 3 are currently in existence, with one further lab in development. There was a general discussion about how these partner labs were funded from national sources, and whether it would be an appropriate long-term goal for Ireland to establish a partner lab. It was acknowledged that such a move would need to be supported at a high level, and would need financial commitment from not only SFI, but other funding agencies.


The meeting concluded with Iain stressing the importance of Ireland’s continuous engagement with EMBL, and that specific action areas should be:
i) to increase awareness in Ireland of initiatives such as EuroBioImaging and ELIXIR;
ii) to increase the number of Irish groups participating in FP7 (and subsequently Horizon 2020) programmes also involving EMBL groups;
iii) scientific community to explore the possibilities for a strategy to establish an EMBL partner lab in Ireland; and
iv) to increase the awareness of and participation in EMBL conferences and courses.


  • Iain Mattaj, EMBL Director General.
  • Stephen Simpson, Director, Lifesciences, Science Foundation Ireland (EMBL Council Delegate for Ireland).
  • Marion Boland, Scientific Programme Manager, Life Sciences Directorate, Science Foundation Ireland.
  • Walter Kolch, Director, Conway Institute and Systems Biology Ireland.
  • Des Higgins, Professor of Bioinformatics, Conway Institute, Dublin (EMBL Group Leader, Higgins Group, 1990-96).
  • John Morrissey, University Lecturer/ Principal Investigator, University College Cork (EMBL Predoc, Tollervey Group, 1990-94).
  • Jez Simpson, Professor, University College Dublin (EMBL Scientific Project Manager, Pepperkok Team, 1999-08).
  • Emmanuel Reynaud, Stokes Lecturer, University College Dublin Science Centre (EMBL Staff Scientist, Pepperkok Team, 2001-9).
  • Geraldine Twamley-Stein, Lecturer, Institute of Technology Tralee, Ireland (EMBL Predoc, Courtneidge Group, 1989-93).
  • Paul Young, Principal Investigator and College Lecturer, University College Cork (EMBL Predoc, Saraste and Gautel Group, 1996-2000).