Heidelberg, 21 December 2017 Mapping molecules on people, fields and ATMs Every day, every inch of skin on your body comes into contact with thousands of molecules – from skin cream, sweat, even from the microbes that call your skin home. Now scientists can create interactive 3D maps that show where each molecule lingers on our bodies, but also on other objects, thanks to a new method that researchers at EMBL and University of California San Diego have made available in Nature Protocols.
General, 21 December 2017 Your favourite reads of 2017 A look back at some of the most read stories on EMBL’s news website this year: from the launch of a new site in Barcelona to the election of Edith Heard as EMBL’s new Director General to EMBL alumnus Jacques Dubochet scooping the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 2017 has been an incredible year at EMBL.
Hinxton, 20 December 2017 Curious genomes All living things are made from the same stuff – DNA – but some genomes really show off the wonderful weirdness of Nature. The Ensembl team at EMBL-EBI comes across weird genomes every day. For this special issue on curiosity, they were kind enough to share a selection of their favourites.
Heidelberg, Hinxton, 14 December 2017 The Future of Training 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of EMBL’s course and conference programme and ten years of training at EMBL-EBI. As the milestone year draws to a close, we kick off a new mini-series exploring what EMBL training experts believe scientific training will evolve in the future.
Heidelberg, 14 December 2017 A physical revolution This year, two physicists-turned-biologists were given alumni awards for achievements in life sciences from EMBL: Matthias Mann, who was awarded the Lennart Phillipson Award, and Philipp Keller who won the 2017 John Kendrew Award. As their work demonstrates, physics informs biology – and across generations.
Heidelberg, 8 December 2017 Alasdair McDowall’s Slow Road to Flash Freezing Alasdair McDowall, a research technician in Jacques Dubochet’s lab (1978-1987), played a key role in developing technology to vitrify water. This technique has been crucial for imaging tiny structures such as the Zika and Ebola viruses.
Heidelberg, 30 November 2017 New technique for imaging the life aquatic Many of nature’s diverse microorganisms have never actually been seen by researchers. That includes the miniscule predators, photosynthesisers, and symbionts that call the ocean home. A new automated microscopy technique makes it faster to 3D image and correctly classify microorganisms in marine samples. EMBL’s Luis Pedro Coelho explains the new technique and how this could lead to a better understanding of how some of the ocean’s smallest creatures live.
Heidelberg, 28 November 2017 Diplomacy – What’s science got to do with it? EMBL’s Winter Council meeting takes place this week in Hamburg. Jana Pavlic and Plamena Markova, EMBL’s new Joint Heads of Government and EU Relations, lay out the different ways in which EMBL interacts with countries, and share how their team works behind the scenes to bring – and keep – member states on board.
General, 23 November 2017 Science in space EMBL alumna Sigrid Reinsch trained as a cell biologist – now she helps run experiments in space. Despite her initial scepticism about spaceflight research, Reinsch is now enjoying the role she plays in getting the best science from the International Space Station, and is keen to see what discoveries will emerge.
Hinxton, 22 November 2017 How malaria springs to action inside mosquitoes A study led by researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute gives new insights into the life cycle of malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites, as they are transmitted from mammal to mosquito. Using mass spectrometry and computational biology, the collaborators explored what happens during this rapid process, which spurs the spread of the deadly disease.
Hamburg, 22 November 2017 Hands-on science inspires Hamburg A giant particle accelerator may not be the typical place to hang out on a Saturday night, but on 4 November, thousands of people made their way to DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron), as part of the biennial Hamburg Night of the Sciences. Visitors uncovered the secrets of the three famous X-ray radiation sources PETRA III, FLASH and XFEL, through talks and practical activities. EMBL’s site on the DESY campus surprised and entertained guests with insights into the tiny molecular machines that build the basis of life: proteins.
General, 21 November 2017 Obituary: Fotis Kafatos It is with great sadness that EMBL learned of the passing of Fotis Kafatos, former EMBL Director-General, who died on Saturday 18 November at the age of 77. Fotis was EMBL’s third Director General from 1993-2005. His contributions to science and the scientific community over five decades in the US and Europe had a significant influence on the advancement of molecular biology on both sides of the Atlantic.
Heidelberg, 20 November 2017 EMBL and HeidelbergCement explore ways to reduce carbon A new Memorandum of Understanding co-signed by EMBL and HeidelbergCement aims to encourage beneficial knowledge exchange in areas related to carbon emission reduction, avoidance and recovery, as well as driving innovation.
Heidelberg, 14 November 2017 High-res Ebola model could spark new questions Although the ravages of the Ebola virus are no secret, the structure of some of the virus’ most minute components have remained a mystery. EMBL’s John Briggs explains the key finding of a recent paper published in Nature that reveals the make-up of a critical part of the Ebola virus, called the nucleocapsid.
Hamburg, 14 November 2017 CSSB: A new approach to infectious disease On the DESY campus in Hamburg, the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) is ready to make its mark as the new kid on the block and tackle some of the most important questions relating to how infections take hold in our bodies
Grenoble, 10 November 2017 Supercool structures: New cryo-EM facility Today, EMBL and ESRF re-expressed their commitment to working together by extending their bilateral collaboration agreement until 2021. The first agreement was signed in 1997, soon after the opening of ESRF. It sets out how the two institutions collaborate on developing new instruments and offering innovative services to structural biologists worldwide.
Hinxton, 7 November 2017 A smart cabinet of curiosities In the 16th Century, the desire to collect and enhance knowledge about our world gave rise to the cabinet of curiosities. Today, those same tendencies drive EMBL-EBI’s data resources. Find out how open data is changing our pursuit of scientific discovery.
Heidelberg, 2 November 2017 What bizarre flies have taught us Flies with oddly-coloured eyes, flies with multiple pairs of wings, flies with legs on their head. Since the early 20th century, scientists have been creating curious-looking flies. These flies were bred not because of some fascination with the bizarre, but for what they could tell us about how traits are passed from parents to offspring, how embryos develop into adults, and how our environment affects us. From chromosomes to courtship dances, here are some examples of what humans have learned – and are still learning – from fruit flies.
Heidelberg, 25 October 2017 To laugh, and then think The Ig Nobel Prizes are renowned as a spoof alternative to the Nobel Prizes. The annual Ig Nobel awards ceremony is a celebration of curious, imaginative studies that make people laugh. Yet while studies of cats behaving like liquids or frogs levitating inside of a magnet might have you chortling, its founder Marc Abrahams has an equally important purpose in mind for the Prizes: to get you to think. Abrahams is also editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and will give an EMBL Forum on Science and Society talk at EMBL in Heidelberg on 4 December.
Heidelberg, 25 October 2017 Science is universal – we must stand up for it An interview with Rolf-Dieter Heuer, President of SESAME, who was guest speaker at EMBL’s 2017 Annual Reception. “The world needs science. Not just applied science or technology, but the whole spectrum of research. Sometimes there is pressure to design projects that can be used immediately by society. However, all science has roots in fundamental research and it is important to have a combination of focused research and basic science,” says Heuer.
Copenhagen, 25 October 2017 Science from ice Working on scientific instruments has taken EMBL alumnus Simon Sheldon to the ends of the Earth. Sheldon first became curious about travelling to Antarctica when he was a teenager. For a long time, it was just an idea. He was 36 when he visited Antarctica for the first time. “When I first stood on the ice it was an incredible feeling,” he says. “I couldn’t believe I’d finally got there.”
Melbourne, 23 October 2017 Fighting disease with structural biology The EMBL community is spread all over the world and and there is perhaps no greater illustration of this than EMBL’s extensive connections in Australia. To further engage and inspire these networks, 74 EMBL alumni, colleagues and collaborators convened on the 9 June in Sydney for the first official EMBL alumni event in Australia. Speakers from EMBL, alumni and representatives from partner institutions outlined the impact of partnership and collaboration on research at EMBL and in Australia, as well as outlining opportunities for the future. In this interview, we catch up with EMBL alumnus Michael Parker to find out more.
Heidelberg, 19 October 2017 EMBL Women’s Night in Heidelberg On 29 September EMBL hosted an after-work meeting for women in science and business called ‘Celebrating Cultures.’ More than 60 women came together to share their experiences and discuss how to implement a business culture that nurtures female talent. Towering over the EMBL campus and providing a stunning view across the Rhine Valley, the EMBL Advanced Training Centre rooftop lounge was the perfect stage for the networking event that encouraged women to aim higher.
Heidelberg, 5 October 2017 Looping the loops: How chromosomes form The nucleus of a human cell is less than one hundredth of a millimetre across but the DNA inside it – if stretched out – would be around two metres long. To fit into such a small space, the DNA has to be carefully coiled and packaged with various proteins. During cell division, the DNA molecules are compacted still further, giving rise to the chunky X-shaped structures. How this compaction process happens is mysterious, but one important player is a ring-shaped protein complex called condensin. Two recent studies involving EMBL researchers have revealed important features of the condensin complex and its role in shaping chromosomes.
General, 4 October 2017 Jacques Dubochet awarded Nobel Prize for chemistry EMBL alumnus Jacques Dubochet has been named as a co-recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing cryo-electron microscopy to determine the structure of the molecular building blocks of life in high-resolution.
General, 4 October 2017 New Speaker announced for Nordic EMBL Partnership The Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine has announced Bernt Eric Uhlin as the partnership’s new speaker. Professor Uhlin is the Director of Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS), and is also a professor at the Department of Molecular Biology at Umeå University. He was elected by the Partnership’s Steering Committee at the eighth annual Nordic EMBL Partnership meeting, hosted by the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) in Helsinki this September.
Heidelberg, 2 October 2017 EMBL annual reception: bridging cultures and nations The showcase event brought together researchers, policy makers, journalists and other members of EMBL Heidelberg’s local community to build relationships and learn more about science and research projects. Guests were greeted with a reception in the sun-flooded foyer of the EMBL Advanced Training Centre.
Heidelberg, 27 September 2017 How wine-making yeast can feed wine-spoiling bacteria In a study published today in Cell Systems, scientists in Kiran Patil’s lab at EMBL detail how the microbes involved in making wine, yoghurt and other fermented foods can feed each other. The work also shows that a small change in the environment can shift the interaction from a one-way relationship into a mutual dependency.
Heidelberg, 21 September 2017 Fish On Fire While immune sensing mechanisms vary widely between animals, ASC specks – particles that play a key role in triggering inflammation – form in humans as well as zebrafish. In a study published in The Journal of Cell Biology, Paola Kuri and Maria Leptin show how this process happens in zebrafish in real time.
General, 18 September 2017 40 years of Courses and Conferences EMBL has been training scientists throughout its history. The first recorded practical course was hosted at EMBL before the laboratory buildings in Heidelberg were officially inaugurated – an EMBO Course in Electron microscopy of nucleic acids in 1977. Today, EMBL hosts over 7000 attendees to courses and conferences every year.
Heidelberg, 7 September 2017 Science + X: Explaining the science behind the Matrix movie Separating fact from fiction, EMBL researchers Ina Huppertz and Thomas Schwarzl explored the science behind the Matrix movie at an EMBL Science Movie Night at a Heidelberg cinema in May. Speaking to more than 200 science fiction enthusiasts ahead of a screening of the 1999 classic, their talks covered areas ranging from our perceptions of reality to the blurring of lines between humans and machines. In the first of a series of articles on the impact of extracurricular activities on research, we spoke to Ina and Thomas about their experience.
Hamburg, 1 September 2017 The future is bright as XFEL opens its doors Today, the European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser Facility (European XFEL) celebrated the inauguration of its X-ray laser and officially opened for researchers. At a total length of 3.4 kilometres, the European XFEL is the world’s largest X-ray laser. Its light source produces X-ray flashes up to one billion times brighter than other available X-ray sources, offering unique research opportunities in the life sciences, as well as many other fields.
Heidelberg, 31 August 2017 Funding agreed for imaging centre The German state and federal governments have agreed on funding for a high-resolution microscopy centre at EMBL in Heidelberg. The letter of intent was signed today during an official ceremony at EMBL's Heidelberg campus by representatives of the German government together with industry and foundation partners. The new centre for light and electron microscopy will be a unique service facility for the life sciences and unite cutting-edge equipment, experts and data analysis. It will be open to visiting scientists from all over the world as well as industry partners.
Hinxton, 29 August 2017 Computational models of cancer available Personalised computational models of how our bodies work have the potential to become a powerful tool for understanding, and eventually treating, complex illnesses like cancer. Because each person is biologically unique, computational models personalised using biological data extracted from individuals can help us understand why some people respond to medical treatments in unexpected ways.
Heidelberg, Stanford, 28 August 2017 Bridging excellence: EMBL and Stanford’s Life Science Alliance EMBL Senior Scientist Lars Steinmetz, who directs the Life Science Alliance, reflects on the progress made since the launch of the EMBL and Stanford initiative. “At our inaugural event, participants from EMBL, Stanford, and many other institutes had the opportunity to discuss exciting scientific developments, interact with leading researchers and form new transatlantic collaborations. Indeed, enabling this kind of scientific exchange was one of the main reasons motivating me to initiate the Life Science Alliance – 18 months on and I am glad to see that it has grown.”
Heidelberg, 25 August 2017 Opinion: Archives for Science In a 2007 letter published in Nature, biologists Sydney Brenner and Richard J. Roberts addressed the importance of scientific archives. To their fellow molecular biologists, they implored, “Let’s not wait until memories have faded and papers been discarded at the end of a career before deciding to save our heritage.” The legacy in danger of being lost is not the published record, which is preserved by libraries, but the unique material that complements it: laboratory notebooks, email exchanges and prototype instruments, to name a few. By telling the stories behind the science, the archival record reveals a glimpse into the past and, in turn, evidence of how science is carried out.
Heidelberg, 11 August 2017 Welcome: Justin Crocker EMBL Heidelberg’s new group leader Justin Crocker and his group are trying to understand how the cells in a developing embryo are directed towards particular fates – in other words, how a cell that can initially become any kind of cell in the body is programmed to become a specific type. “Our goal is to reach a point where we can program and control developmental fates in a whole organism. What motivates my work is a desire to understand how this information is encoded and how the process of development plays out so precisely every time,” explains Justin.
Hinxton, 9 August 2017 Welcome: Evangelia Petsalaki Cells communicate using chemical ‘signals’ between proteins or other molecules. This molecular conversation allows cells to do their job, whether it’s growth, repair or defence. Errors in cell signalling are responsible for a range of diseases, including cancer, autoimmunity and diabetes. The Evangelia Petsalaki group at EMBL-EBI is creating models of signalling in cells to probe the way they communicate with each other. Their aim is to make both predictive and conditional models, so they can anticipate what might happen in a biological network under different conditions.
Hinxton, 1 August 2017 Welcome: Zamin Iqbal The Iqbal group works on a range of problems related to genetic variation in microbes. One core project involves analysing 100,000 tuberculosis (TB) genomes as part of a consortium seeking to find the genetic underpinnings of drug resistance. The results feed directly into the group’s work on TB diagnostics: they recently demonstrated that one could go from a patient’s sputum to a full diagnostic test for TB including drug resistance prediction, in just 12.5 hours.
Rome, 26 July 2017 Italian school students experience life in the lab The ‘Summer in Science’ summer school brought 20 school students from all over Italy together with life science researchers from EMBL, CNR and Sapienza University in Rome. From June 12-23, students experienced what life working in a research laboratory is like. Following the first ‘Summer in Science’ summer school, school student Andrea Totaro and EMBL group leader Christophe Lancrin reflect on their experiences.
Heidelberg, 25 July 2017 New England Biolabs partners with EMBL EMBL welcomes New England Biolabs (NEB) as the newest member of the EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) Corporate Partnership Programme. Together, EMBL and NEB will collaborate to develop workshops and training opportunities in new areas of research.
General, 24 July 2017 Bioinformatics in Latin America Despite its large population and significant crop and meat exports, Latin America’s research is severely underrepresented in genomics databases. To support the region in reaching its full potential, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) is collaborating with nine research institutes in Latin America to launch the CABANA project. Funded by the Research Councils UK, CABANA aims to speed up the implementation of data-driven biology in Latin America. The first step is to create a training programme that facilitates bioinformatics capacity-building in the region, and that can be sustained over the long term.
Hinxton, 20 July 2017 UK Biobank partners with the EGA Genomic data from the 500,000 people participating in the UK Biobank initiative will be distributed via the European Genome–phenome Archive (EGA), a resource developed jointly by the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG). UK Biobank provides extremely detailed, high-quality datasets on individuals. It is an unprecedented collection that offers endless possibility and substantial efficiency savings for biomedical research and understanding the causes of disease.
Heidelberg, Grenoble, 11 July 2017 Cyclists rise to charity challenge 905 kilometers, 11096 height meters, in five days: that was the challenge for 16 EMBL staff who successfully completed an epic journey from EMBL’s Heidelberg campus to the institute’s site in Grenoble. The event, which saw the riders pass through three countries, traverse mountains and even take in some of the official Tour de France route, was organised by EMBL’s Bike Club and raised money in support of the ‘Kinderplanet’ at the University Children’s Hospital in Heidelberg.
Rome, 10 July 2017 New name for EMBL’s site in Italy EMBL’s unit in Italy is changing name to reflect better its new research focuses and highlight its location for EMBL’s international audience. It is now the: Epigenetics and Neurobiology Unit, EMBL Rome. Becoming the “Epigenetics and Neurobiology Unit” places the unit in a forward-thinking dynamic, while being much more transparent than its previous title. This new title highlights the two topics in which the unit is strongest and aims to make a difference in the next few years.
General, 7 July 2017 EIROforum, a driver for international science Science has been one of the European project’s great success stories. Since the turn of the millennium, research has been placed centre-stage in the development of a knowledge-based economy. Large European scientific facilities and infrastructures have played a crucial role in driving collaborative research – the creation of EIROforum in 2002 saw the realisation of a visionary consortium that unites Europe’s largest intergovernmental research infrastructure organisations in promoting the quality and impact of European research.
Hamburg, 6 July 2017 CSSB opens its doors On 29 June, at a ceremony in front of 700 guests, the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) in Hamburg, was officially opened. At the event on the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) Campus in Hamburg, Helmut Dosch, Chairman of the DESY Board of Directors, presented Head of EMBL Hamburg and CSSB Scientific Director Matthias Wilmanns with a key to the building in front of the assembled guests.
General, 29 June 2017 Solving the nucleosome: twenty years on Ahead of the EMBO conference The Nucleosome: From Atoms to Genomes, speaker Tim Richmond looks back on the work that revealed the high-resolution structure of the nucleosome. Starting from a linear DNA strand, the first level of organisation involves a structure called the nucleosome, in which DNA is wound for two turns around a cluster of eight proteins called histones. A single strand of DNA has many nucleosomes at regular intervals along its length – an arrangement that’s often compared to beads on a string. In the early 1980s the structure of the nucleosome was still mysterious, although several research groups were working on the problem.
Heidelberg, 28 June 2017 EMBL Council selects next Director General At its 53rd meeting yesterday, EMBL Council selected Edith Heard as the organisation's fifth Director General. Heard's mandate is scheduled to begin 1 January 2019. She is currently Director of the Genetics and Developmental Biology Unit at Institut Curie and holds the chair of Epigenetics and Cellular Memory at the Collège de France. "Edith is an outstanding molecular biologist and scientific leader with a lot of international experience. Her clear scientific vision, her participatory leadership style, and her engagement at all levels of research, service and training make her a perfect choice,” said Patrick Cramer, Chair of EMBL Council.
Hinxton, 26 June 2017 The sexual dimorphism dilemma The sex of animals has an effect on the results of biomedical research and should be considered in design of scientific studies, according to researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium. This statement, published in Nature Communications, is based on the discovery that the differences between male and female mice have an effect that could significantly alter the interpretation of studies using animal models with only one gender (sex).
Hinxton, 26 June 2017 Mouse genes could help decipher human disease Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and their collaborators in the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC) have fully characterised thousands of mouse genes for the first time. Published in Nature Genetics, the results offer hundreds of new disease models and reveal previously unknown gene functions. The 3328 genes described in this publication by the IMPC represent approximately 15% of the mouse genome.
Hinxton, 14 June 2017 Open imaging data for biology A picture may be worth a thousand words, but only if you understand what you are looking at. The life sciences rely increasingly on 2D, 3D and 4D image data, but its staggering heterogeneity and size make it extremely difficult to collate into a central resource, link to other data types and share with the research community. To address this challenge, scientists at the University of Dundee, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the University of Bristol and the University of Cambridge have launched a prototype repository for imaging data: the Image Data Resource (IDR).
Monterotondo, 13 June 2017 Fathoming fear “When you’re in a state of fear, there’s this internal feeling, this sense of dread, this sense of threat, this sense of impending harm or doom,” says Cornelius Gross, a group leader at EMBL’s Monterotondo site. “That’s the conscious state, but many things happen in your brain before you get to that point.” Exactly what happens before that point is what Gross and his team are trying to find out. They’re interested in studying parts of the brain involved in states of fear and anxiety.
Heidelberg, 9 June 2017 Mapping gene expression, cell by cell EMBL researchers have succeeded in creating a molecular atlas of a whole organism, studying the expression patterns of more than 100 important genes in each cell of the marine worm Platynereis dumerilii, as they report in the journal PNAS. Study authors Hernando Martínez Vergara and Detlev Arendt explain.
Hinxton, 6 June 2017 Senses: Silencing noise Somehow, the multitudes of highly specialised cells in our bodies arise from just a single cell. It’s a process that might seem far removed from the changes that occur in the body during a disease. But for John Marioni and Oliver Stegle, research group leaders at EMBL-EBI, one principle ties these processes together. “In effect, we’re trying to understand how cells make decisions,” says Marioni.
Stockholm, 1 June 2017 Human Cell Atlas data platform kicks off with support from CZI The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) has announced financial support for the Human Cell Atlas, which is using sequencing technology to redefine every cell in the body. Funding and engineering support from CZI will enable the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the Broad Institute and the University of California Santa Cruz Genomics Institute (UCSC) to set up an open, cloud-based Data Coordination Platform to check, share and analyse the vast amounts of diverse information generated.
Monterotondo, 31 May 2017 Senses: What you see is how you feel Analogies can be useful things in science, but they can put a straitjacket on our thinking too. Hiroki Asari, a group leader at EMBL’s Monterotondo site, is keen to escape from one analogy in particular: the idea that the eye is a camera. It’s something we all learn at school. Light passes through the lens of the eye and falls on the layer of light-sensitive cells known as the retina. We’re taught that the retina is like a roll of film or a digital sensor – it captures the pattern of light, which is then entirely processed in the brain.
Barcelona, 29 May 2017 James Sharpe appointed Head of EMBL Barcelona James Sharpe, who invented a 3D imaging technique for looking at tissues and organs, will be the first Head of EMBL Barcelona. The new EMBL site will focus on tissue biology and disease modelling, and make state-of-the-art imaging technologies like Sharpe’s available to scientists worldwide. Sharpe, who currently leads the Systems Biology Programme at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, is expected to start his lab at EMBL this Autumn.
Heidelberg, 25 May 2017 Sorting out HIV A widely used technique for studying proteins on the surfaces of cells – which is sometimes also used with viruses – is fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). FACS can also be used to sort large viruses such as the Ebola virus, but for studying smaller viruses with fewer surface proteins – like HIV – FACS is not sensitive enough. Now researchers at EMBL, ESPCI Paris, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative have developed a new technique for rapidly sorting HIV viruses, which could lead to more rapid development of a vaccine for HIV, as they report in Cell Chemical Biology. Study author Christoph Merten explains.
Heidelberg, 15 May 2017 Cell changes drive breast cancer relapse Relapse is now the main cause of death for breast cancer patients. Researchers at EMBL have found that, in mice, the tumour cells that survive therapy and eventually cause a relapse have specific traits that distinguish them from healthy cells. In a study published today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the scientists revealed that two of these traits could be promising targets for treatments to reduce tumour recurrence in breast cancer patients. “Our results suggest that residual cells retain an ‘oncogenic memory’ that could be exploited to develop drugs against breast cancer recurrence,” says Martin Jechlinger, who led the research at EMBL.
Hinxton, 11 May 2017 HipSci: The human stem cell bank Stem cell researchers have produced one of the largest collections of high-quality human induced pluripotent stem cell lines (iPSCs) from healthy individuals. This comes as result of a close collaboration between the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, King’s College London, the University of Dundee and the University of Cambridge. The data generated by the initiative are hosted and distributed via EBI services. The new resource, reported in Nature, features hundreds of publicly available human stem cell lines that scientists can use to study human development and disease.
Heidelberg, 8 May 2017 Obituary: Riccardo Cortese The life science community is mourning the loss of Riccardo Cortese, former head of EMBL’s Gene Structure and Regulation Programme (now the Genome Biology Unit), who passed away in April aged 72. Riccardo was a prominent figure in the life sciences internationally, driving many important discoveries that had a huge impact on both fundamental and applied research.
Heidelberg, 8 May 2017 EMBL spin-off company Luxendo acquired by Bruker EMBL spin-off company Luxendo has been acquired by Bruker Corporation. Based in Heidelberg, Germany, Luxendo develops and commercialises microscopes that use the Single Plane Illumination Microscopy (SPIM) technique developed by EMBL researchers.
Monterotondo, 5 May 2017 Welcome: Jamie Hackett EMBL Monterotondo’s new group leader Jamie Hackett and his group are interested in how epigenetic reprogramming works, through processes such as DNA demethylation a and chromatin remodeling. “We are looking at the controversial idea of how some epigenetic information escapes reprogramming and is inherited by offspring – something that could potentially impact development, health and disease over the course of generations. Such ‘non genetic’ inheritance is a tantalising possibility, but something that must be examined and scrutinised very carefully,” explains Jamie.
Heidelberg, 2 May 2017 Futures: Phosphatases As part of a series marking the tenth anniversary of the European Research Council, ERC grantee Maja Köhn shares her vision for the next ten years. “Phosphatases are a group of enzymes involved in an incredibly diverse range of processes. My group will study several phosphatases, learning more about their substrates and investigating their roles in the cell. We hope to gain insights into the features that allow them to bind to their substrates, and identify which of these features are shared by different phosphatases. We’ll also investigate other factors such as where the phosphatase is located in the cell, or the interactions it has with other proteins.”
General, 2 May 2017 Hungary becomes EMBL member state On 20 April EMBL welcomed Hungary as its 23rd member state, highlighting EMBL’s commitment to promoting international science and forming close ties with researchers across Europe. “This is an important step for EMBL, and for life science research in Hungary,” said EMBL’s Director General Iain Mattaj. “We’re very pleased to have them join us as a new member state.”
Heidelberg, 27 April 2017 Illuminating insulin release Typical laboratory tests to measure levels of insulin – the hormone that controls our blood sugar – are based on the total amount of insulin secreted by a large number of cells. But exploring the fundamental biology behind this process – and testing possible drugs to control it – requires an understanding of how it works at the single-cell level. This is possible using a new method developed by researchers at EMBL and reported in Cell Chemical Biology, as study author Carsten Schultz explains.
Monterotondo, 25 April 2017 Developing embryos found to use ancient viral DNA DNA from viruses that once infected our ancestors millions of years ago have remained in our genome to this day. In a study published today in eLife, EMBL scientists found that activation of one class of these ancient viral sequences is critical for early mouse embryo development, and identified the protein involved in regulating them.
Hinxton, 13 April 2017 A race against the ageing clock Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge have identified an accurate mouse epigenetic clock that uses DNA methylation to accurately estimate an animal’s age. The paper, published in Genome Biology, confirmed that lifestyle interventions known to shorten lifespan also accelerated the clock. The mouse epigenetic clock could become a useful tool for understanding how ageing works and what interventions can accelerate or delay the process.
Heidelberg, 12 April 2017 Obituary: Konrad Müller It is with great sadness that we share the news that EMBL alumnus Konrad Müller passed away on 28 March. Konrad, who is a former head of personnel and administration, worked at EMBL for two decades between 1975–95. Konrad’s contributions have helped to shape EMBL as we know it today. Under his leadership at EMBL he drove key projects including the establishment of EMBL’s Kinderhaus, the INTERMEDEX health insurance system for EMBL employees, the creation of the EMBL Staff Association and furthered relations with Germany, the host country of EMBL Heidelberg and Hamburg.
Hamburg, Vienna and Amsterdam, 11 April 2017 Structure of key system for TB infection revealed In a paper published this week in Nature Microbiology, the Wilmanns group at EMBL together with scientists from across Europe reveal the overall architecture of an assembly of proteins known as Type VII secretion systems found in a group of bacteria which cause diseases such as tuberculosis.
Barcelona, 10 April 2017 EMBL to open new site in Barcelona At a ceremony in Barcelona today, EMBL and the Spanish government signed an agreement for a new EMBL site to be hosted in the city. EMBL Barcelona will be located on the campus of the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), and researchers at the site will explore how tissues and organs function and develop, and how preventing failures in those processes may help to tackle disease. Alongside cutting-edge research, the site will house state-of-the-art imaging facilities, making pioneering technologies available to scientists worldwide.
Barcelona, 10 April 2017 The story behind EMBL’s Barcelona site “Spain hosting an EMBL site has been on my mind almost from my first days as Director General of EMBL. When I first visited the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (MINECO) in Madrid at the end of 2005, it was already very clear that they were keen to develop deeper links with us, up to and including hosting an EMBL site.” EMBL Director General, Iain Mattaj, reflects on the work done to establish a new site in Barcelona.
Monterotondo, 7 April 2017 Strengthening links with Italian research community EMBL has a history of creating strong links with institutions in its host countries. At EMBL’s Monterotondo site, links with the Italian research community are being strengthened as the Unit refocuses its research on the fields of neurobiology and epigenetics.
Heidelberg, 6 April 2017 Blood stem cell differentiation is continuous Every day, your body has to generate up to one trillion new blood cells, more if you suffer from an infection or severe bleeding. Ultimately, all of these cells derive from the adult haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in your bone marrow. Lars Steinmetz’s lab at EMBL, in collaboration with colleagues at the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ), have discovered that HSC differentiation is in fact a continuum. Lars Velten, who carried out the research at EMBL, describes the work, which is featured on the cover of Nature Cell Biology this month.
Barcelona, 6 April 2017 Behind the scenes: Building EMBL’s Barcelona site There is a natural sense of connection between EMBL and Barcelona. The city, which was honoured as the first European Capital of Innovation in 2014, is a national hub of life science research and has long promoted alliances between research centers and universities. So it is with a great sense of excitement that we await the opening of EMBL’s sixth site on 10 April, located on the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) – one of the most important campuses for translational research in Europe.
General, 5 April 2017 When science meets management The EU-funded Research Infrastructure Training Programme (RItrain) is launching a Master’s course for managers of research infrastructures. The course was developed by the University of Milano-Bicocca, with input from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). Tuition fees will be waived for the first run of this course set to start in September 2017. The course will comprise face-to-face and online activities, with a strong emphasis on knowledge exchange.
EMBL-EBI Hinxton, 31 March 2017 Ageing: cell coordination breakdown Researchers from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), University of Cambridge, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Cancer Research UK–Cambridge Institute (CRUK-CI) have shed light on a long-standing debate about ageing and why the immune system weakens with age. Their findings, published in Science, show that immune cells in older tissues lack coordination. These cells also exhibit more variability in gene expression compared with their younger counterparts.
General, 29 March 2017 Opinion: Scientists must be part of the conversation Take a walk around EMBL’s sites and you will discover physicists, chemists, geneticists, computer scientists, crystallographers, mathematicians and experts from many other fields working together, united by a shared curiosity to solve the molecular mysteries of life. One striking aspect is the variety of intellectual backgrounds. Another is the astonishing range of nationalities – more than 80 different countries are represented in our workforce. This diversity is crucial for EMBL’s success as an organisation.
General, 24 March 2017 John Kendrew’s legacy “Without John Kendrew there would have been no EMBL,” wrote Ken Holmes in his memoir of the institute’s first Director-General. On the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday, we take a look at the man who shaped the philosophy and spirit of the organization. As World War II broke out, John Cowdery Kendrew had just graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in chemistry. Inspired by discussions with scientists J.D.Bernal and Linus Pauling, he decided to return to Cambridge to study the structure of proteins after the war. So began a life-long interest in the fields of protein crystallography and molecular biology.
Heidelberg, 24 March 2017 Futures: The dark proteome As part of a series marking the tenth anniversary of the European Research Council, ERC grantee Edward Lemke shares his vision for the next ten years. “Determining a protein’s structure can help us understand more about its function and makes it easier to identify compounds that might modify its activity, which can be important in developing new drugs. However, about a third of proteins in the human body are part of what we call the dark proteome – a group of proteins whose structures cannot easily be determined, because they’re intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs).”
Heidelberg, 21 March 2017 Welcome: Monika Lachner Meet EMBL’s new Academic Coordinator and Dean of Graduate Studies, Monika Lachner. “My team coordinates the EMBL International PhD Programme and the Postdoctoral Programme as well as driving other internal training initiatives at EMBL. There are 230 PhD students and 280 postdocs at EMBL. We support them during their entire time at EMBL and are a first point of contact for them. I enjoy providing a platform for them to develop in their careers, and this is something that is inherent to the training programmes at EMBL. It is a very rewarding experience watching scientists grow and mature over time. I am very happy to be part of that.”
Heidelberg, 13 March 2017 Futures: Brain evolution As part of a series marking the tenth anniversary of the European Research Council, ERC grantee Detlev Arendt shares his vision for the next ten years. “I want to know how the brain evolved. It’s a process that can be traced back to simple organisms like sponges, which don’t have a nervous system but – intriguingly – have many of the components for building one. From those beginnings, how did we end up with the network of billions of neurons that make up the human brain?”
Heidelberg, 13 March 2017 Futures: Genome regulation As part of a series marking the tenth anniversary of the European Research Council, ERC grantee Eileen Furlong shares her vision for the next ten years. “I’m fascinated by the question of how the genome is regulated in a developing embryo. We know that a large part of our genome is involved in regulating gene activity, and differences in this activity are crucial in determining the way cells develop into different cell types, ultimately forming the diverse range of tissues in our body. It’s a complex process but errors are surprisingly rare, so we’d like to understand how this regulation of embryonic genes can be so precise.”
Heidelberg, 9 March 2017 Cell division offers hope in fighting antibiotic resistance Growing levels of antibiotic resistance pose a serious threat to global public health and scientists are racing to find novel ways to tackle bacterial infections. A recent study by Orsolya Barabas' lab, on how bacteria untangle their chromosomes during division, offers hope for developing new antibacterial treatments. Most bacteria have a protein that cuts any DNA tangled during cell division and sticks it back together as two distinct daughter chromosomes. In a study published in eLife, the EMBL scientists discovered that this protein doesn’t start cutting as soon as it binds to DNA. First, another protein has to activate it by changing its shape. This means one could look at designing drugs to interfere with that activation process.
Hinxton, 8 March 2017 Women in science: Glass half full? The Wellcome Genome Campus 2017 Sex in Science programme kicked off with a talk by Ottoline Leyser, Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory and Professor of Plant Development at the University of Cambridge. Frustrated by what she saw as pessimistic attitudes to those who have children during their science careers, Leyser collated a collection of inspiring short stories called Mothers in Science – 64 Ways to Have it All. And her key messages to the audience echoed this sentiment.
Hinxton, 6 March 2017 Fresh insight into how immune cells fight malaria The immune system is extremely complex. It responds to disease by developing many specific types of immune cells – some that fight and some that observe and remember. A joint study by the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Australia, reveals for the first time how immature immune ‘T’ cells in mice choose which skill they will develop to fight malaria infection.
Heidelberg, 6 March 2017 Unlocking the secrets of nuclear movements EMBL’s François Nédélec believes computer modelling can play a key role in making sense of large amounts of biological data. A new study published in Molecular Biology of the Cell shows the power of this approach. Based on the analysis of raw data collected by many different researchers, Nédélec’s group constructed a computer model of the simple fungus Ashbya gossypii, which has cells containing many nuclei.
General, 6 March 2017 Pathways: Life science investment “I came out of the lab and all of a sudden I was responsible for business development,” says Joep Muijrers. Muijrers is a former PhD student at EMBL’s Heidelberg site and now an investor in life science companies. “You find yourself in the middle of it and you learn as you go.” Jumping into a situation and teaching yourself what you need is something that many scientists will be familiar with. It’s easy to think of science and business as separate worlds, but Muijrers points to many skills that are common to both.
Heidelberg, 2 March 2017 Metabolism matters Life requires energy. The strategy a cell uses to obtain that energy can influence not only how fast it multiplies but also a variety of other processes, like which of its genes are turned on. This process – called metabolism – is challenging to track in time and space, so it has not been studied much in developing embryos. Alexander Aulehla shares how, in work published this week in Developmental Cell, his lab is starting to fill that gap.
General, 28 February 2017 SESAME: a light in the desert In the desert 30 km northwest of Jordan’s capital Amman, a sparkling new light source will soon open for business. SESAME – the Middle East’s first synchrotron – will enable researchers from across the region to explore the structural and chemical makeup of everything from metals to biological tissue. The first electrons were sent flying around the 133-metre ring in January and after 20 years of lobbying, training and construction work, SESAME is now gearing up to do great science. EMBL alumna Zehra Sayers, a biophysicist who chairs SESAME’s Scientific Advisory Committee has been a key driver of SESAME’s development.
General, 23 February 2017 Building bioinformatics capacity in Africa Africa exceeds every continent on Earth in genetic diversity. Many African nations need to build a critical mass of people with the science and technology skills to study this diversity comprehensively – and EMBL alumna Nicola Mulder is on the case. As Head of the computational group at the University of Cape Town, Mulder has driven the development of H3ABioNet: a pan-African bioinformatics network that aims to build capacity for genomics research, and to train the next generation of computational biologists.
General, 22 February 2017 Building labs with flies Isabel Palacios studies fruit flies. Not because she has any particular interest in flies themselves, but because they help her answer fundamental questions about animal development. But that’s not the only ambition she has for her flies. As a founder of the DrosAfrica project, she believes the fruit fly, Drosophila, can play an important role in developing the research infrastructure of an entire continent, helping African scientists undertake high-impact projects and form collaborations around the world.
Heidelberg, 16 February 2017 Sartorius joins EMBL’s Corporate Partnership Programme EMBL has strengthened its links with enterprise by welcoming Sartorius to the EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) Corporate Partnership Programme. Sartorius is a leading international pharmaceutical and laboratory equipment provider with two divisions: bioprocess solutions and laboratory products and services.
Heidelberg, Hinxton, 16 February 2017 New collaboration between EMBL and GSK EMBL and GSK have signed a collaboration agreement to leverage the skills of both organisations to enhance understanding of disease and drug mechanisms and advance early drug discovery. EMBL and GSK will jointly develop and apply cutting edge technologies that will allow the comprehensive characterisation of how a potential new medicine will interact with human biology on a molecular, cellular and organ level to better predict its actions in the human body.
Grenoble, 15 February 2017 Beamline 14’s legacy Between 2010 and 2016, a fruitful collaboration between EMBL, the ESRF and the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB) based in New Delhi, India allowed hundreds of Indian scientists to access the resources and services offered by EMBL and ESRF and to further their research at a pace that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. But, like other beamlines at the ESRF, BM14’s time is drawing to a close.
Heidelberg, 14 February 2017 Lipids in real time We know much less about the way fat molecules – or lipids – behave in cells than we do about other molecules like proteins. A new chemical biology technique developed at EMBL and reported in the journal PNAS may be about to change that, as study author Carsten Schultz explains.
Heidelberg, Hinxton, 13 February 2017 Genetic switches can change shape Scientists in Eileen Furlong and Oliver Stegle’s labs at EMBL have revealed, for the first time, that genetic differences between individuals can affect promoter shape. Promoters are sequences of DNA that turn genes on. The EMBL scientists also discovered that a promoter's shape – the area of genetic sequence that it controls – influences how much its output varies from cell to cell. The work is published today in Nature Genetics.
Heidelberg, 26 January 2017 Degrees of excellence We catch up with Helke Hillebrand on leaving EMBL after 9 years as Academic Coordinator and Dean of Graduate Studies. “Throughout my time at EMBL, my goal has been to develop the programmes in ways that enable fellows to explore science at its best, to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them and to be fully informed when planning their next career steps,” says Helke.
Hinxton, 26 January 2017 Genetics of ‘room-mate’ influences health Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) have shown that the health of individual mice is influenced by the genetic makeup of their partners. Their work on social genetic effects, published in PLOS Genetics, indicates that research into genetics and disease should include the genotypes of both individuals and their partners.
Grenoble, 25 January 2017 Welcome: Wojciech Galej Wojciech Galej is very new to EMBL, but his lab overlooking the Chartreuse Mountains is filling up quickly. Soon his group will use state-of-the-art methods in structural biology and biochemistry to investigate the structure of large RNA-protein complexes.
Heidelberg. Hinxton, 12 January 2017 Buffering mechanism protects embryonic development Researchers from EMBL in Heidelberg, Germany and EMBL-EBI in Hinxton, UK have pinpointed thousands of potentially functional genetic variants that disrupt gene regulation during embryonic development. The findings, published in Nature, reveal buffering mechanisms that cancel out detrimental effects of genetic variation during embryonic development.
Monterotondo, 9 January 2017 Neural connection keeps instincts in check From fighting the urge to hit someone to resisting the temptation to run off stage instead of giving that public speech, we are often confronted with situations where we have to curb our instincts. Scientists at EMBL have traced exactly which neuronal projections prevent social animals like us from acting out such impulses. The study, published online today in Nature Neuroscience, could have implications for schizophrenia and mood disorders like depression.