General, 18 December 2014 Alumni awards EMBL’s pride in its community extends beyond the duration of a fellowship, contract or visit – we celebrate the achievements and efforts of our alumni, sometimes long after their time at EMBL. The John Kendrew Award recognises excellence in science and/or science communication, while the Lennart Philipson Award – inaugurated this year – recognises outstanding contributions to translational research in human health and/or technology innovation in the life sciences. Meet the newest awardees.
Hamburg, 11 December 2014 Lighting the way Just over 40 years ago, Ken Holmes, then director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysics in Heidelberg, brought to light the stunning potential of X-rays emitted by synchrotrons for use in structural biology experiments. On 27–28 November, staff, alumni, collaborators and friends came together to reflect on four decades of vision, pioneering research and beamline services since EMBL Hamburg was set in motion on the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) campus soon afterwards.
Hamburg, 11 December 2014 Dinner with a Nobel Laureate From the Holy See to DESY, it was a typically busy week for Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath recently: one day visiting the Pope in Rome and the next celebrating 50 years of photon science at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg. During her few days on the site shared by EMBL Hamburg, she gave numerous presentations, met current scientists, gave interviews, and dined with students and members of the DESY directorate. On the evening of 30 October, it was the turn of EMBL PhD students and postdocs, who joined Yonath for a dinner they will never forget.
Monterotondo, 9 December 2014 Delighting in detail The skin seems almost designed to thwart established microscopy techniques, but a new approach by scientists at EMBL Monterotondo overcomes such challenges, showing mouse neurons as never before. “Already we’ve been able to see things that we couldn’t see before. Structures such as nerves arranged around a hair on the skin; we can now see them under the microscope, just as they were presumed to be,” says Paul Heppenstall of the new technique developed by his lab.
General, 2 December 2014 40 questions, answered EMBL’s headquarters is located in the middle of a lively forest home to many different plants – which serve as inspiration for observing and studying the various forms that life can take. Although scientists at EMBL do that every day with microscopes, spectrometers, and other sophisticated tools, how many people actually look deeper at the lush vegetation in and around the campus?
Hinxton, 1 December 2014 What makes a mosquito deadly? An international team of scientists has sequenced the genomes of 16 Anopheles mosquito species from around the world, some of which are notorious for transmitting malaria. Published in Science, the results provide important insights into the dynamic evolution of these vectors. The annotated datasets are freely available in VectorBase, a consortium involving the University of Notre Dame, Imperial College London and the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).
Hinxton, 28 November 2014 Record parasitic worm dataset The largest collection of helminth genomic data ever assembled has been published in the new, open-access WormBase-ParaSite. Developed jointly by the European BIoinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, this new resource will be a major asset in the fight against parasitic worms, which infect more than one billion people worldwide.
General, 27 November 2014 Argentina: EMBL in action Argentina’s most recent events as a new EMBL associate member state included two activities from EMBL-EBI: a bioinformatics roadshow – one of the most popular offerings of the EMBL-EBI Training Programme – and an EMBL-EBI Industry Seminar. The two events were followed by a César Milstein Lecture given by EMBL Director Matthias Henze at the Leloir Institute in Buenos Aires, and the launch of a call for short-term visitors to EMBL from Argentina.
Hamburg, 24 November 2014 What can your synchrotron do for you? Have you ever wondered how major pharmaceutical companies might use synchrotrons for their research? As keynote speaker at an event in Hamburg on 30 October – entitled Strukturbiologie: Potentiale für die Pharmaindustrie – Armin Ruf, Head of the Biostructure Section at the Roche Innovation Center Basel, Switzerland, gave fascinating insights into how the pharmaceuticals giant uses crystallography and small angle X-ray scattering for their structure-based drug design.
Grenoble, 19 November 2014 20 years in the making “This has taken 20 years of my life,” smiles Head of EMBL Grenoble Stephen Cusack, “and for the first 15 years we had almost no results!” Cusack’s perseverance, determination and vision have now been duly rewarded as he and his team publish the first crystal structure of an influenza polymerase this week in the journal Nature.
Heidelberg, 19 November 2014 Welcome: Kyung-Min Noh Having explored everything from physiology to structural biology in her quest to understand the epigenetics of neuron development, new group leader Kyung-Min Noh values the ability to communicate and share knowledge across disciplines. Find out more about her inspiration and motivation, and what research her group will be undertaking in the Genome Biology Unit at EMBL Heidelberg.
Hamburg, 18 November 2014 On a SAXS quest Over the past few years, Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) has grown rapidly in popularity as a powerful tool for bio-molecular structure determination. In an attempt to meet the increasing demand, the SAXS group at EMBL Hamburg, led by Dmitri Svergun, hold regular courses and workshops across the globe, but the biennial EMBO Practical Course on Solution Scattering from Biological Macromolecules held at EMBL Hamburg remains the course to attend in the quest for optimal SAXS data.
General, 17 November 2014 Welcome: Judith Zaugg Whether it’s combining different levels of information or collaborating with people in a variety of fields, the art of connecting is key to new group leader Judith Zaugg. Find out more about her inspiration and motivation, and what research her group will be undertaking in the Structural and Computational Biology Unit at EMBL Heidelberg.
General, 14 November 2014 40 questions, answered Some retroviruses are able to carry out reverse transcription using special enzymes. Why doesn’t reverse translation happen? Is it possible to induce it in the lab setting? This question, asked by Pranavathiyani Gnanasekar from India, is answered by Alfredo Castello at EMBL Heidelberg.
General, 11 November 2014 Polish connections Poland is EMBL’s newest prospect member state, and connection, cooperation and collaboration are now high on the agenda for the Laboratory and the country's research institutions. One person who knows both EMBL and Poland well is Anna Bartosik, a PhD student in the Knop group at EMBL Heidelberg from 2008 to 2012, before moving on to a postdoc at the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw.
Hinxton, 4 November 2014 Building an EMPIAR Now, there is a place where the structural biology and imaging communities can access the raw data used to derive 3D structures, driving the development of new and better validation methods. EMPIAR (pdbe.org/empiar) lets researchers upload their raw data – which often amounts to hundreds of gigabytes – and download other raw datasets. It sits alongside the Electron Microscopy Data Bank (EMDB), where 3D images are stored.
Grenoble, 4 November 2014 Zombies and crystals This year’s Fête de la Science in France lasted three weeks, from 26 September to 19 October, and – in celebration of the International Year of Crystallography – included a fun selection of crystallography-based events throughout Grenoble. Local activities culminated in an Open Day held jointly by EMBL Grenoble and the neighbouring Institut de Biologie Structurale on 18 October.
Hinxton, 30 October 2014 Kidney cancer in Central Europe New research by the international Cancer Genomics of the Kidney consortium (CAGEKID) reveals an important connection between kidney cancer and exposure to aristolochic acid, an ingredient in some herbal remedies. The findings, published in Nature Communications, have important implications for public health.
General, 30 October 2014 40 questions, answered If one wants to build an artificial human brain in laboratory (in order to use it later in treatment of dementia and so on), what are the main problems one must solve? How to make neurons and neuroglia live in vitro and work altogether, and then – the million-dollar question – how to make these neurons bear memory from an actual human being? PhD student Hernando Martinez Vergara answers this question posed by Anna from Russia.
General, 9 October 2014 40 questions, answered To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we challenged you to ask EMBL anything. One of the most common questions we are asked has to do with the EMBL logo. What does it represent? Where did it come from? Why is one of the spots red? The logo was created by Lennart Philipson, EMBL's second Director General. Philipson passed away in 2011, but fortunately, he revealed the logo’s origin in an interview published a decade ago.
Hamburg, 16 September 2014 Hamburg anniversary symposium: Preview From 27–29 November, EMBL Hamburg invites past and present friends, users and alumni to a 40th anniversary celebration at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) campus. Festivities include a two-day symposium that will look at the history of the Hamburg outstation, the science undertaken at its beamlines, and the future of structural biology. In a preview interview, keynote speaker Michael Rossmann looks back at the early days of synchrotron radiation and crystallography, and makes some predications about the future of structural biology.
Hinxton, 12 September 2014 Major advance in stem cell technology Researchers at EMBL-EBI have resolved a long-standing challenge in stem cell biology by successfully ‘resetting’ human pluripotent stem cells to a fully pristine state, at the point of their greatest developmental potential. The study, published in Cell, involved scientists from the UK, Germany and Japan and was led jointly by EMBL-EBI and the University of Cambridge.
Heidelberg, 5 September 2014 Scientists for a day For just one day, PhD students could no longer claim the title of ‘youngest researchers’ at EMBL. That honour went to the 13 students aged 11 to 17 who conducted a full-day experiment in the EMBL training labs as part of the Tschira-Jugendakademie at the end of August this year.
Hamburg, 2 September 2014 CSSB foundation stone ceremony On 29 August, Hamburg’s science senator Dorothee Stapelfeldt, secretary of state in Lower Saxony’s science ministry Andrea Hoop, and founding director of the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) Matthias Wilmanns, together with representatives of the CSSB partners, laid the foundation stone for the new Centre’s research building.
General, 27 August 2014 Nordic networks Researchers are convening in Umeå, Sweden this week for the annual network meeting of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine. The Partnership – which has grown from scratch in 2008 to more than 40 research groups mostly led by young researchers – brings together the Danish Institute for Translational Neuroscience (DANDRITE), the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS), the Centre for Molecular Medicine Norway (NCMM) and EMBL with the shared goal of tailoring approaches to the benefit of patients. Ahead of the meeting, we caught up with NCMM Director and speaker of the Partnership Kjetil Taskén.
General, 11 August 2014 From students to mentors “We had the coolest project, the best mentors and the best team – it was a really, really nice experience!” These were the words that Sara from Belgrade, a big fan of theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, used to describe her experience at the Summer School of Science (or S3++) in Pozega, Croatia.
Hinxton, 7 August 2014 New, improved human genome Ensembl has incorporated a vast amount of knowledge into a fully annotated reference human genome, GRCh38. Their work builds on the release of a new assembly by the Genome Research Consortium, and provides a solid foundation for future genomics research.
Heidelberg, 6 August 2014 Unpacking iron overload Scientists from EMBL Heidelberg and the University Clinic Heidelberg shed new light on the molecular background of a rare form of the iron overload disorder haemochromatosis. This hereditary disease, which leads the body to store excessive amounts of iron, is among the most common genetic disorders in Northern Europe, affecting about 100,000 people in Germany alone.
Heidelberg, 1 August 2014 PhDs, proteomes and pints One by one, six young scientists took the stage and gave talks about their research to the seated audience. But this wasn’t a conference or seminar series; the venue was an Irish pub, pints of Guinness were on every table in the darkened room, and the gathered crowd was there not only to learn, but also to be entertained.
Heidelberg, 31 July 2014 Celebrating 40 years of leading life science More than 1,000 staff and alumni from around the world came together at EMBL Heidelberg to celebrate the Lab’s 40th Anniversary Reunion, 18–19 July 2014. A special programme combining reunion activities and the annual Lab Day celebration was co-organised by the Alumni Association and Lab Day Committee, making it the largest community event in EMBL’s history.
Hinxton, 23 July 2014 Marmoset genome sheds light on chimeral twins An international consortium has published the genome of the common marmoset in the journal Nature Genetics. Their initial analyses provide insights into this tiny primate’s reproductive system, which is well adapted to multiple births. The marmoset sequence, annotated by researchers at EMBL-EBI and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, is freely available in the Ensembl genome explorer.
General, 19 July 2014 Embracing cellular complexity ‘A Million Peptide Motifs for the Molecular Biologist,’ a paper from Toby Gibson and like-minded colleagues in Molecular Cell boldly claims. Those not steeped in structural and computational biology will likely miss the joke; the new review completes a trilogy of papers published over the last two decades, each one upping the numerical ante on its predecessor (‘One thousand families for the molecular biologist’ by Chothia in 1992 and ‘Ten thousand interactions for the molecular biologist’ by EMBL alumni Aloy and Russell in 2004).
General, 16 July 2014 Ask EMBL... anything! Have you ever wondered… How do you pronounce “Helicobacter pylori”? How does genetic sequencing work? How do I become the director general of a top international research facility? As part of our 40th anniversary celebrations, we’re asking people to ask EMBL…anything!
General, 15 July 2014 Czech-ing out EMBL Council There is a new addition to the waving banner welcoming EMBL Council delegates to Heidelberg for the Summer meeting of EMBL’s governing body. Among the established member states’ flags now flies the red, white and blue flag of the Czech Republic, the 21st and newest state to join EMBL. Jana Bystřická, the Czech delegate, reflects on the new membership at her inaugural meeting.
General, 10 July 2014 Bringing chemistry to life (science) Staying at the forefront of any field requires the adaptability to move with the times and the foresight to choose the best partners. This is true for individuals, institutions, and even scientific disciplines, as evidenced in an editorial by Interdisciplinary Group Leader and Senior Scientist Carsten Schultz, published online this week in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.
General, 1 July 2014 Still growing at 40 New Dehli, Brno, Warsaw, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Cape Town… looking at Silke Schumacher’s agenda, you could be forgiven for thinking she is an air hostess, global celebrity, or diplomat. As EMBL’s Director of International Relations, the last probably comes closest. But when EMBLetc. caught up with her during a ‘layover’ in Heidelberg, Silke revealed that the institute’s true ambassadors are its scientists.
General, 1 July 2014 Reviews: Science on screen Since EMBL was founded, there has been wild variety in science-themed films gracing our cinema screens – many timeless classics, others forgotten as soon as they came out. Just in case you missed any, a team of film enthusiasts from the Lab has picked out their favourite movies – one from each of the past four EMBL decades.
General, 1 July 2014 The search for our neighbours Either we’re alone in the universe or we are not: both answers are equally terrifying, wrote science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell disagrees: “Finding life on other planets might be the most profound discovery in the history of science,” he says.
General, 1 July 2014 Nothing but blue skies For all the exciting possible applications of the CRISPR mechanism, its initial discovery owes a great deal to basic, blue-skies research, says Emmanuelle Charpentier. She credits the academic freedom afforded to her by the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine for helping her make the discovery.
General, 1 July 2014 Back to school What does it mean to be a researcher? Practising scientists know very well that research is not an off-the-rack career: it is multifaceted, exciting, challenging and rewarding. Helping the next generation recognise that a scientist is more ‘role model’ than ‘mad professor’ is the task of a growing team of EMBL School Ambassadors.
General, 1 July 2014 Forty things that make EMBL What comes to mind when you think of EMBL? As the Lab turns 40, and with the help of staff and alumni, here is an unofficial and by no means complete list of what it is about our institution that gets people excited, energised or enthralled. In no particular order, here are the first of 40 things that make EMBL, EMBL.
Hinxton, 12 June 2014 Celebrating 20 years of bioinformatics On 12 June 2014, EMBL-EBI celebrated its 20th anniversary with a day of inspiring talks and fun activities on the Genome Campus. Held on the lawn behind Hinxton Hall, the event brought together staff and alumni to connect, look back on a remarkable two decades of growth and discovery and share ideas about the future of bioinformatics.
Heidelberg, 6 June 2014 HIV: Hacking, Immaturity and Viruses John Briggs’ group in Heidelberg have pinpointed interactions between parts of a viral protein called Gag which are crucial for HIV maturation. The similarities and differences they have found between HIV and Mason-Pfizer monkey virus – often used to study the human pathogen – could help distinguish key viral building blocks from pieces fine-tuned by each virus depending on the cells it infects.
Heidelberg, 3 June 2014 Magic rings Every time a cell divides to create two offspring cells, it has to carefully manage its genetic inheritance to ensure that each new cell ends up with their appropriate share. In most cases, the parent cell first duplicates its genome, and then parcels out half of this DNA (one full genome) to each of its progeny.
Hamburg, 22 May 2014 Matthias Wilmanns elected to the Leopoldina On 22 May, Head of EMBL Hamburg, Matthias Wilmanns was officially inaugurated as a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. The ceremony took place at the National Academy of Sciences in Halle as part of the Academy’s annual life sciences symposium.
Heidelberg, 8 May 2014 Remodelling the cell Cells, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. To get to their final shape — long and thin, spherical or rectangular — they have to make important structural changes in the membranes that form their borders. As cells get bigger, they obviously need to create more membrane, but sculpting the cell into a defined shape also requires tightening and contracting parts of the membrane too.
Hamburg, 6 May 2014 EMBL and UKE sign collaboration agreement In a celebratory symposium on Tuesday 29 April, representatives from EMBL and the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE), Hamburg, met on the UKE campus to kick-start a new era of collaboration between the two institutes. The main aim is to join forces in biomedical research and training activities by way of a strategic bilateral partnership. Part of this involves the start of a joint PhD programme, whereby EMBL PhD students can now defend their thesis at UKE as a recognised partner institute.
Heidelberg, 29 April 2014 Training roundtable Training specialists from the Founding and Corporate Partners of EMBL’s Advanced Training Centre – including Leica, Olympus, BD and Illumina – gathered in April with managers of EMBL’s external training unit for a kick-off meeting aimed at furthering training synergy and strategy.
General, 28 April 2014 Christian Boulin Christian Boulin, EMBL’s Director of Core Facilities and Services, died on 27 April 2014. Christian was one of our longest-serving staff members. He joined EMBL in 1976 and worked in a variety of positions until taking over the Core Facilities and Scientific Services leadership role under Fotis Kafatos.
Hinxton, 24 April 2014 Tsetse fly genome sequenced An international team including EMBL-EBI scientists has published the genome of the tsetse fly Glossina morsitans, a pest native to sub-Saharan Africa that transmits parasitic sleeping sickness. Over 140 insect disease vector biologists – half from African research institutes – examined and manually curated the annotationsy. Results of the 10-year collaborative effort appear in Science, and the data are freely available in VectorBase.
Hamburg, 13 January 2014 Spearheading the study of infectious diseases Matthias Wilmanns, Head of EMBL Hamburg, has today been appointed founding director of the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB). At this interdisciplinary research centre, biologists, physicists and physicians will join forces, bringing together state-of-the-art structural biology, infection biology and systems biology approaches to investigate infectious diseases.