Barcelona, 19 December 2018 Growing bio-inspired shapes with hundreds of tiny robots Hundreds of small robots can work in a team to create biology-inspired shapes – without an underlying master plan, purely based on local communication and movement. To achieve this, researchers from EMBL Barcelona, CRG and Bristol Robotics Laboratory introduced the biological principles of self-organisation to swarm robotics. Science Robotics publishes the results on 19 December.
Rome, 17 December 2018 Using light to stop itch Itch is easily one of the most annoying sensations. For chronic skin diseases like eczema, it’s a major symptom. Although it gives temporary relief, scratching only makes things worse because it can cause skin damage, additional inflammation and even more itch. Researchers from the Heppenstall group in EMBL Rome have now found a way to stop itch with light in mice. Nature Biomedical Engineering publishes their results on 17 December 2018.
Heidelberg, 11 December 2018 Computer model to predict prostate cancer progress The model is currently being implemented at a prostate cancer clinic in Germany. The researchers have also found the enzyme that appears to trigger some of the first mutations in prostate cancer. Cancer Cell publishes their results on 10 December 2018. Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in men in the Western world, with more than a million new cases each year. The new computer model was developed by an international team involving Jan Korbel and colleagues at EMBL, and researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Rigshospitalet, and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ).
Heidelberg, 7 December 2018 DIY Biology kits: what’s really growing inside? In Germany, CRISPR-Cas technology is strictly limited to certified labs, but people’s curiosity extends much further. Those particularly interested in its application are members of the do-it-yourself biology (DIYbio) community, whose scientific backgrounds are as broad and varied as their aims. Their portrayal in the press has been mixed, with journalists alternately highlighting DIYbio’s potential dangers or educational possibilities. For scientists at EMBL, the DIYbio movement provides a conundrum. “As scientists, we recognise and support the urge to explore, ask questions and tinker,” says Vladimir Benes. “But we also hope to see DIY biologists learning in a safe environment – and doing sound science.”
Heidelberg, 6 December 2018 New ways to look at protein-RNA networks Scientists at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and EMBL have developed a method that enables researchers to analyse the composition of the entire protein-RNA network of the cell. The new method has now been published in the journal Cell. “With XRNAX we are able to measure all interactions between protein and RNA, which is something nobody could measure before,” explains Jakob Trendel, a PhD student at EMBL who developed XRNAX. “Many protein-RNA interactions are suspected to be the underlying cause for diseases including cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or viral infections like HIV. Now we have a way to look at them.”
General, 5 December 2018 New EMBL Partnership in Hungary EMBL has recently formed an inter-institutional collaboration with the Hungarian Centre of Excellence for Molecular Medicine (HCEMM), setting the stage for the ongoing transfer of institutional, research and collaborative expertise between the two organisations. Researchers at HCEMM will also have access to the EMBL Partnership network across Europe and further afield. HCEMM is a newly established non-profit organisation, researching the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases. It will bridge the gap between fundamental and translational research by undertaking projects with relatively rapid clinical applications.
Hinxton, 3 December 2018 Discovering new enzymes just got easier Biotechnology researchers are always looking for ways to make such innovative ideas a reality. To do that, they need to find enzymes – biomolecular machines, or catalysts – that can transform things or break them down. But finding an enzyme that performs the correct transformation under the right conditions is not that easy. You can’t just Google all life on Earth to find an enzyme that does the right job. But you could try using metagenomics-based analysis to identify enzyme of commercial interest. EMBL-EBI’s MGnify is a good place to start. This open data resource from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) uses metagenomics-based analysis to identify enzyme of commercial interest.
Heidelberg, 30 November 2018 Translating blue-sky research into the clinic In the summer of 1999, Ilaria Ferlenghi sat at a microscope, staring intensely at the greyscale image swimming into and out of focus on screen. She was inside the microscopy facility at EMBL’s Heidelberg site, using one of two cryo-electron microscopes. Within the blur, she was searching for a glimpse of the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) – a virus for which south-west Germany is particularly renowned. In the forest outside the laboratory, hikers were attempting to avoid TBEV. Those sensible enough covered their ankles, to protect themselves from TBEV-infected ticks lurking in the undergrowth. Anyone infected with TBEV risks fever, seizures and even death.
Heidelberg, 28 November 2018 Science in industry For one week in September, twenty postdocs got the chance to hear about exciting research happening within various industries, as part of the EIPOD Corporate Summer School. EIPOD is EMBL’s interdisciplinary postdoc programme, which receives funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. From designing drugs to creating a start-up company, Shveta Bisht and Daniel Schraivogel present their personal highlights, along with the latest developments occurring at the interface between academia and industry.
Heidelberg, 28 November 2018 Night of research, culture and treats European Researchers’ Night is Europe’s biggest science festival. This year, Heidelberg and Mannheim participated for the first time. EMBL’s European Learning Laboratory for the Life Sciences (ELLS) was responsible for organising Heidelberg and Mannheim’s participation in the festival, and secured funding from the European Commission for both 2018 and 2019. On 28 September, ten research institutes in and around Heidelberg were invited to take part in the ‘Nacht der Forschung Heidelberg | Mannheim’ (Night of Research Heidelberg | Mannheim), together offering more than 130 activities. The 1300 visitors at EMBL had the opportunity to visit the labs and talk to scientists, who presented their work in various ways, including in pictures, through dance, and on stage.
Hinxton, 26 November 2018 Algorithm identifies gene–environment relationships The research article, published in the journal Nature Genetics, produced an algorithm and a bioinformatics method that can be applied to large cohorts of human genome and lifestyle data to identify the impact environmental factors (such as diet, physical activity or living conditions) have on genotype–phenotype relationships. Applying this method allows scientists to identify areas of the genome that affect human traits in different ways, depending on lifestyle or other environmental factors.
Heidelberg, 22 November 2018 Ambition and talent Although Nina Kathe is just 20 years old and at the beginning of her scientific career, her scientific achievements have already been recognised by the EU. In 2017, she won the EU Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) for her school project, which focused on antibiotic resistance. Part of her prize was a visit to EMBL Heidelberg, where she had the opportunity to attend a conference of her choice. Nina decided to take part in the EMBL conference ‘Transcription and Chromatin’ in August 2018. She also learned about EMBL’s core facilities, tested the light sheet microscope in the Hufnagel group and discussed her research plans with members of the Typas group.
Heidelberg, 21 November 2018 Communities building collections In 2015, several boxes and many digital files greeted Anne-Flore Laloë on her first day at EMBL as the newly instated Archivist. Three years on, the EMBL Archive – now located in EMBL Heidelberg’s Building 14 – houses even more boxes, stacked neatly in a temperature-controlled room. Among their contents are an original drawing from a graphic novel featuring one of EMBL’s founders, Leo Szilard, and placards collected at Heidelberg’s March for Science in 2017. There’s also a box of dissecting instruments that belonged to former Director General Fotis Kafatos. Decorated in his handwriting, the fierce warning cautions others not to borrow the forceps “under any conditions”.
Heidelberg, 19 November 2018 Molecular and behavioural consequences of SETD5 mutation About 1% of patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability have a mutation in a gene called SETD5. In a study led by Kyung-Min Noh, group leader at EMBL, and Gaia Novarino, Professor at IST Austria, scientists describe what happens on a molecular level when the gene is mutated in cell cultures and in mice, and how this changes the chromatin environment and the mice’s behaviour, respectively. This is an important step towards understanding how mutations in the SETD5 gene may cause cognitive changes in affected patients.
Heidelberg, Hinxton, 16 November 2018 An in silico hope for biology: machine learning “I’m excited by the problems EMBL biologists want me to help them solve using image analysis!” exclaims Anna Kreshuk with a smile. Kreshuk is one of many researchers across EMBL’s sites who use machine learning to solve problems in biology. Just months after starting as a group leader at EMBL, she has a growing list of collaborators who want to use her methods to automatically extract information from microscopy images. After a degree in mathematics, Kreshuk worked for three years at CERN as a scientific programmer before pursuing a PhD in machine learning. Since the completion of her PhD in 2012, the field of machine learning has exploded.
Heidelberg, 15 November 2018 Controlling organ growth with light In optogenetics, researchers use light to control protein activity. This technique allows them to alter the shape of embryonic tissue and to inhibit the development of abnormalities. Now, scientists in EMBL’s De Renzis group have enhanced the technique to stop organ-shaping processes in fruit fly embryos. Their results, published in The EMBO Journal, allow control over a crucial step in embryonic development.
General, 10 November 2018 In the flesh: translating 2D scans into 3D prints Niall Haslam, EMBL alumnus and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at axial3D, is translating 2D hospital scans into 3D prints, giving both clinicians and patients the chance to see, hold and truly understand what is going on underneath the skin.
Hinxton, 8 November 2018 Genomes of all known UK species to be sequenced The genetic code of 66,000 UK species will be sequenced by the Wellcome Sanger Institute in a major collaboration with EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and other partner organisations as part of a global effort to sequence all 1.5 million known species of animal, plant, protozoa and fungi on Earth. The UK project, known as the Darwin Tree of Life Project, launched 1 November alongside the global effort, the Earth BioGenome Project. The Earth BioGenome Project will ultimately create a new foundation for biology to drive solutions for preserving biodiversity and sustaining human societies.
Hamburg, Heidelberg, 7 November 2018 New insights into the regulation of haemostasis EMBL researchers in Hamburg and Heidelberg and their collaborators have studied a key protein involved in haemostasis, known as the von Willebrand factor (VWF). In a paper published in Blood, they report the structure of a key region of VWF known as the C4 domain. In a second paper, also published in Blood, a group from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) in collaboration with the Hamburg group reports on a clinically relevant mutation in the C4 domain. Matthias Wilmanns, group leader at EMBL Hamburg, and Janosch Hennig, group leader at EMBL Heidelberg, teamed up for a collaboration between two EMBL units with a focus on structural biology.
Hamburg, 31 October 2018 Time-resolved X-ray crystallography simplified An international collaboration has developed a new method to observe the molecular foundations of biology, with the help of beamline P14 at EMBL Hamburg. The new ‘hit-and-return’ method simplifies and accelerates time-resolved X-ray crystallography experiments, allowing many snapshots to be recorded in a single experimental session.
Heidelberg, 31 October 2018 A worm’s sense of the world We sense the world around us using primarily our eyes, ears and nose. Marine worms, on the other hand, have long been thought to understand the world very differently – primarily by detecting chemicals in the ocean water that surrounds them – although this has not been investigated in detail. Now, researchers in the Arendt group have recorded nerve cell activity in the head of marine worms. The worm’s small size and transparency, means that all of the nerves and neurons within the head can be imaged at once.
General, 30 October 2018 Sanofi joins Open Targets Public-private collaboration Open Targets announced today that Sanofi has joined its pioneering public-private collaboration to transform drug discovery by improving the success rate for developing new medicines. Sanofi’s expertise in immunology, oncology, neurosciences and diabetes will complement the offerings of the current partners GSK, Biogen, Takeda, Celgene, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).
Barcelona, 29 October 2018 ¡Hola, Barcelona! At EMBL Barcelona, biologists, physicists and computer scientists work together to understand and simulate the multi-scale connections between genes, cells and tissues. On 15 October, EMBL Barcelona hosted its Inauguration Symposium to officially introduce itself to the city. At this event, journalists, politicians and scientists got the chance to peek inside EMBL Barcelona’s new lab spaces and meet the researchers.
General, 26 October 2018 The future of scientific publishing For many people, the way to make science less exclusive is open access (OA): free access to all information a journal publishes with full reusability by the community. Everybody can read and use the published work, provided they cite the original paper. Ioanna Ydraiou is a senior librarian at EMBL. Bernd Pulverer is Head of Scientific Publications at EMBO Press. Of the five EMBO Press publications, three are OA journals, with Molecular Systems Biology having been among the first OA journals when it was launched in 2005. We spoke with Ydraiou and Pulverer individually about their view of challenges and opportunities of Open Access.
Heidelberg, 24 October 2018 More effective insulin thanks to first 3D image An international collaboration including EMBL scientists Felix Weis and Christoph Muller has revealed how to make therapeutic insulins more effective than they currently are. The findings – published in Nature Communications on 24 October – will help to improve treatments for diabetes, a disease that impacts the lives of millions of people worldwide.
Heidelberg, Hinxton, 23 October 2018 Understanding cell identity by creating maps of genetic networks As part of a series marking the 10th anniversary of the European Research Council, ERC grantees Wolfgang Huber - EMBL group leader - and Oliver Stegle, group leader at EMBL and the German Cancer Research Center DKFZ, share their vision for the next 10 years.
Hamburg, 22 October 2018 ARP/wARP 8.0 released Researchers in the Lamzin group at EMBL Hamburg have released the next generation of their ARP/wARP software. ARP/wARP is used by structural biologists, enabling them to automatically build models of proteins and their complexes, including nucleic acids and small molecule ligands, based on crystallography data collected using synchrotron beamlines. This latest version is also able to interpret cryo-EM density maps at a resolution of 3.5 Å and to construct some partial models even at 4.5 Å resolution.
Rome, 16 October 2018 Deleting genes to study how germ cells are born With multiple fluorescent reporters of different colours, the team around Jamie Hackett – group leader at EMBL Rome – were able to track the development of pluripotent stem cells into germ cells. Germ cells are a critical cell-type since they develop into sperm or eggs, which establish each new generation. The scientists used a modified CRISPR-technique – CRISPR screening – to delete in turn each of the 21,000 genes in the mouse genome and study the effect of their absence on germ cell development. They identified 23 genes that are likely important for germ cells to develop, greatly extending the number of previously known genes.
Grenoble, 15 October 2018 Transcription factors controlled by DNA sequence In cells, DNA exists in a highly compact form. The scaffolding that enables this packaging of the DNA is made of proteins known as histones. More than 50 years ago, it became apparent that chemical modifications to these proteins are associated with gene activation. One example of such a modification is acetylation – the addition of an acetyl chemical group. However, precisely how cellular signals initiate this modification remained unclear. To reveal the underlying mechanism, a team led by Daniel Panne – a former group leader at EMBL Grenoble – combined biochemical and structural studies with molecular modelling.
General, 9 October 2018 EMBL in the UK: Wendy Bickmore In May 2018, researchers and EMBL alumni in the UK gathered in Edinburgh to learn about EMBL research, training and services, and to strengthen their scientific networks. Wendy Bickmore, the director of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh was invited to the event to reflect on her longstanding associations with EMBL and its researchers.
General, 8 October 2018 Excellent alumni The organisers of the EMBL in Norway event at the University of Oslo, Gareth Griffiths and Rein Aasland, were presented with the “Volunteer of the Year” award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in August 2018. Rein is currently the head of the Department of Biosciences at the University of Oslo, as well as the vice-president of the Human Frontier Science Program. Gareth is a group leader in Rein’s department and has been the chair of the EMBL Alumni Association board since 2016.
General, 5 October 2018 EMBL in Finland: Marja Makarow On 5 October, more than 170 Finnish researchers and EMBL alumni gathered at the Biomedicum in Helsinki to discover and share the latest scientific opportunities available at EMBL’s six sites. Here Marja Makarow, director of Biocenter Finland and event co-organiser, talks about her own scientific journey. During her long-standing career, Marja has fostered international and diverse research environments – and she was keen to share these experiences with scientists throughout Finland.
General, 4 October 2018 EMBL in Spain: Lola Ledesma More than 100 EMBL alumni and researchers in Spain came together on 8 October at the Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CBMSO) in Madrid to build new networks and share ideas. EMBL alumna, Lola Ledesma, co-organised this event alongside alumni Jose María Almendral and Luis Menéndez-Arias. In the lead up to this event, Lola spoke about her current research at CBMSO and the importance of doing research abroad.
Heidelberg, 1 October 2018 Ageing is visible in the way cells use glucose A research team from EMBL and Heidelberg University has studied the molecular features of ageing in human blood stem cells. The most prominent finding is that the sugar metabolism of stem cells increases with age – a change similar to that observed in cancer cells. This is coupled with a decline in stem cell functionality and in immune defense.Their results, published in Nature Communications on 1st October 2018, serve as an important reference for further studies on the molecular mechanisms of ageing in humans. The paper’s first authors are Marco L. Hennrich, mass spectrometrist at EMBL, Natalie Romanov, predoctoral fellow in bioinformatics at EMBL, and Patrick Horn, cell biologist at Heidelberg University.
General, 27 September 2018 Looking for life using geobiology A diverse band of researchers, with interests in areas such as astrobiology, the origins of life, and the way organisms adapt to extreme environments, came together at EMBL’s Advanced Training Centre from 26-31 August. They were here for the EMBO Practical Course ‘Molecular Geobiology’. This was the first EMBO course on geobiology and the first to involve an element of fieldwork, with participants travelling to the Ries impact structure in Bavaria to take rock samples and test them for the presence of microbial species. Here, the scientific organisers and speaker Antonio Lazcano discuss the course and their research interests.
General, 20 September 2018 Promega joins EMBL’s Corporate Partnership Programme EMBL warmly welcomes Promega, a global leader offering more than 4000 products in the fields of genomics, protein analysis and expression, cellular analysis, drug discovery and genetics, to the EMBL Advanced Training Centre Corporate Partnership Programme. “Promega and EMBL will collaborate to support young scientists interested in drug discovery and chemical biology,” says Joe Lewis, Head of EMBL’s Chemical Biology Core Facility.
Heidelberg, 17 September 2018 Solving the structure of retromer An international research team has published the full 3D structure of retromer: a molecular machine that sorts and packs cargo at the cell’s logistics hub. They used cryo-electron tomography to reveal the structure of the retromer complex, allowing a greater understanding of how this molecular machine works. To achieve this, researchers in John Briggs’ group – formerly at EMBL and now at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) – collaborated with scientists at the University of Queensland, the University of Cambridge, and the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry. They publish their findings in Nature on 17 September 2018.
Hamburg, 13 September 2018 X-rays reveal surprising shape of scaffolding protein While bioinformatics tools had suggested that the four domains of PDZK1 would behave like beads on a string, moving around in a highly flexible manner, X-ray experiments now show that PDZK1 actually has a relatively well-defined L-shaped conformation with only moderate flexibility. This discovery was led by EMBL Hamburg group leaders Dmitri Svergun and Christian Löw. The journal Structure publishes their results on 13 September 2018.
Heidelberg, 10 September 2018 First interactive model of human cell division Mitosis – how one cell divides and becomes two – is one of the fundamental processes of life. Researchers in the Ellenberg group at EMBL have now produced the first interactive map of proteins that make our cells divide, allowing users to track exactly where and in which groups the proteins drive the division process forward. This first dynamic protein atlas of human cell division was published in Nature on 10 September.
Hinxton, 30 August 2018 PhenoMeNal: an online portal for metabolomics An international collaboration between EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) - O'Donovan team - and 13 other partners has made large-scale metabolomics analyses easier with the launch of PhenoMeNal. This online portal allows researchers and clinicians to analyse large metabolomics datasets. For example, researchers can search for patterns in a patient’s data. They can then use the findings to improve the detection of disease and to help optimise treatment. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
Hinxton, 23 August 2018 New approach for testing cancer drug response Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) have used a large collection of cancer cell lines to systematically test the relevance of germline variants to explain differences in drug response. The analysis, which leveraged both inherited genetic variants and variants that are caused by the tumour, was applied to 993 cell lines and 265 drugs. Surprisingly, results, published in Nature Communications, showed that the germline contribution to differences in drug susceptibility can be just as important as the contribution of somatic mutations.
General, 17 August 2018 Open call for detector and imaging tech projects ATTRACT has launched an open call for seed funding to develop breakthrough ideas in detector and imaging technologies. The deadline is 31 October. ATTRACT aims to create a co-innovation ecosystem between fundamental research and industrial communities to develop breakthrough detection and imaging technologies for scientific and commercial uses. In the first phase of the project, €17m of seed funding is being released to develop concepts.
Heidelberg, 14 August 2018 Celebrating science Iain Mattaj, EMBL‘s Director General since 2005, will step down at the end of the year. While Iain’s departure is tinged with sadness, it is also reason to celebrate his and EMBL’s achievements, past and present. For three days in July, EMBL showcased the diversity of paths chosen by EMBL alumni in Career Day, explored research in creative ways during Lab Day, celebrated the successes of past colleagues with the Alumni Awards, gave a surprise-ridden and tearful farewell to Iain, and showed during the Summer Party that EMBL is not only an inspiring workplace, but a family-friendly one, too!
Rome, 7 August 2018 Summer in Science 2018 For two weeks, 16 students from around Italy have taken part in the second edition of ‘Summer in Science’, a summer school organised by Adamas Scienza – a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting scientific culture and innovative methodologies in life science education. Summer in Science is a two-week experience designed to help highly motivated high-school students to get a taste of working in a lab and to better understand how science works.
Heidelberg, 1 August 2018 Understanding soil through its microbiome Soil is full of life, essential for nutrient cycling and carbon storage. To better understand how it functions, an international research team led by Peer Bork and Falk Hildebrand at EMBL and the University of Tartu (Estonia) conducted the first global study of bacteria and fungi in soil. Their results show that bacteria and fungi are in constant competition for nutrients and produce an arsenal of antibiotics to gain an advantage over one another. Nature publishes the results on 1 August 2018.
Heidelberg, 26 July 2018 The proteins behind hungry cells EMBL scientists have used super-resolution microscopy to see the protein machinery used by cells to ‘eat’ nutrients and other molecules. The research, published in Cell, clarifies how 23 of the most important proteins involved in this task organise and assemble themselves. EMBL group leader Jonas Ries led the research alongside collaborators Marko Kaksonen and François Nédélec.
Hinxton, 16 July 2018 Europe PMC now indexes preprints Europe PMC, the discovery platform for life science literature, based at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), will include preprint abstracts in the search results, alongside peer-reviewed content, to make science reported in preprints readily discoverable. To begin with, over 37 000 preprints will be available in Europe PMC from July 10, 2018.
Heidelberg, 12 July 2018 Parental chromosomes kept apart during embryo’s first division It was long thought that during an embryo’s first cell division, one spindle is responsible for segregating the embryo’s chromosomes into two cells. EMBL scientists from the Ellenberg group now show that there are actually two spindles, one for each set of parental chromosomes, meaning that the genetic information from each parent is kept apart throughout the first division. Science publishes the results – bound to change biology textbooks – on 12 July 2018.
Hinxton, 10 July 2018 Leukaemia roots detectable years before diagnosis Researchers in the Gerstung group at EMBL-EBI and collaborators have discovered that it is possible to identify people at high risk of developing acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) years before they suddenly develop the disease. Published in Nature, the study found that blood tests looking for changes in DNA code can reveal the roots of AML in healthy people. Further research could allow earlier detection and monitoring of people at risk of AML in the future, and open the prospect of developing ways to reduce the likelihood of developing this cancer.
Heidelberg, 6 July 2018 Melting bacteria to decipher antibiotic resistance With antibiotic resistance spreading worldwide, there is a strong need for new technologies to study bacteria. EMBL researchers from the Savitski and Typas groups have adapted an existing technique to study the melting behaviour of proteins so that it can be used for the study of bacteria. Molecular Systems Biology published their results – allowing researchers worldwide to start using the technique – on July 6.
Heidelberg, 4 July 2018 Combining antibiotics changes their effectiveness The effectiveness of antibiotics can be altered by combining them with each other, non-antibiotic drugs or even with food additives. Depending on the bacterial species, some combinations stop antibiotics from working to their full potential whilst others begin to defeat antibiotic resistance, report EMBL researchers from the Typas group and collaborators in Nature on July 4.
Heidelberg, 29 June 2018 Algal nuclear pore complex revealed Researchers from the Beck group at EMBL, and collaborators have revealed the structure of the NPC of the alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, in a paper published in Nature Communications. Their research reveals that there are striking differences between the human and the algal NPC.
Grenoble, 26 June 2018 Flu’s response to new drug explored The new influenza drug Xofluza was approved for clinical use in Japan in February 2018. Scientists from the Cusack group at EMBL Grenoble have now investigated the drug’s mode of action in detail, and uncovered possible mechanisms by which viral resistance to it could emerge. Scientific Reports published the results of this collaboration between scientists from EMBL and Japanese pharmaceutical company Shionogi on 25 June.
Heidelberg, 22 June 2018 Miniature testing of drug pairs on tumour biopsies Combinations of cancer drugs can be quickly and cheaply tested on tumour cells using a novel device developed by EMBL scientists from the Merten group. The research, reported in Nature Communications on June 22, marks the latest advancement in the field of personalised medicine.
Barcelona, 20 June 2018 New theory deepens understanding of Turing patterns A team of researchers at EMBL Barcelona's Sharpe group have expanded Alan Turing’s seminal theory on how patterns are created in biological systems. This new theoretical model, published 20 June in Physical Review X, may answer whether nature’s patterns are governed by Turing’s mathematical model and could have applications in tissue engineering.
Heidelberg, 18 June 2018 Constructing new tissue shapes with light Constructing biological tissues, such as skin, muscle, or bone, in customized shapes is now one step closer. Emiliano Izquierdo, Theresa Quinkler, and Stefano De Renzis - all researchers at EMBL - have succeeded in guiding the folding and thus shape of tissues with optogenetics: a technique to control protein activity with light. Nature Communications publishes their results, with implications for regenerative medicine, on 18 June.
Heidelberg, 8 June 2018 EMBL in six objects Every year, on 9 June, archivists all around the world celebrate International Archives Day. This year, at EMBL, 9 June also marks six weeks until the inauguration of the EMBL Archive. This will be held on 19 July at EMBL’s Heidelberg site. Ahead of the inauguration, here is a preview of some material from EMBL’s past. We will reveal one item a week until the inauguration and explain how it connects to the present and future of European molecular biology
Heidelberg, 4 June 2018 Welcome: Simone Köhler Simone Köhler will join EMBL Heidelberg in June as a group leader in the Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit. Using state-of-the-art microscopy and genome-editing techniques, she will research how chromosomes interact with each other to form the DNA within germ cells – the precursors to sperm or egg cells.
General, 4 June 2018 A pint of EMBL science This May, scientists from Montreal to Moscow swapped the lab for the pub to discuss their research with a non-scientific audience at the Pint of Science festival. These international outreach events took place in 300 cities all around the world. In Cambridge, Hamburg, Heidelberg and Grenoble, EMBL scientists at all stages of their career shared their ideas and research with hundreds of audience members over a drink together.
Hinxton, 30 May 2018 Of mice and gorillas: how wild species could benefit from mouse genetic data A new study by researchers at EMBL-EBI compared mouse genetic data with data from gorillas and other wild mammals to reveal new insights into mammalian health and disease. Conservation Genetics published their results on May 19.
Hamburg, 29 May 2018 Reconstructing 3D shapes from unmeasurable data Scientists at EMBL Hamburg determine shapes of intermediate states in dynamic biological systems - like protein folding and unfolding - based on multiple small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) datasets. The Journal of the International Union of Crystallography (IUCrJ) publishes their new method on May 29.
Heidelberg, 25 May 2018 Melina Schuh receives EMBO Gold Medal EMBL alumna Melina Schuh, currently a Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany, has received an EMBO Gold Medal. The award is given annually to young scientists for outstanding contributions to the life sciences in Europe.
Heidelberg, 23 May 2018 Exploring genetic variation EMBL group leader Jan Korbel reflects on his origins as a scientist and his current research into how our DNA rearranges – a process that has implications for ageing and diseases including cancer. In recognition of his work in cancer research, Korbel will receive the Pezcoller Foundation-EACR Cancer Researcher Award, which is presented every two years to a researcher who has made important contributions to the field of cancer research.
Heidelberg, 14 May 2018 Obituary: Elisa Izaurralde It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of EMBL alumna Elisa Izaurralde. She died on April 30, at the age of 58, after a battle with cancer. Elisa worked in the EMBL Gene Expression Unit (now Genome Biology Unit) for a total of 13 years between 1990 and 2006.
General, 11 May 2018 Iain Mattaj elected NAS foreign associate In a ceremony held on 28 April in Washington, DC, EMBL’s Director General, Iain Mattaj, was inducted as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Mattaj received this distinction – regarded as one of the highest honours in science – for his notable, varied, and continuing achievements, particularly his recent work demonstrating the critical role of the Ran GTPase protein in regulating cell division.
Heidelberg, 10 May 2018 New risk factors for rare childhood cancer A research team led by EMBL scientists from the Korbel group has found that five percent of children with a rare brain tumour called medulloblastoma develop the disease due to genetic risk factors. The genes involved can also be used to identify patients at high risk for additional cancers later in life. The Lancet Oncology publishes the findings on May 9.
Heidelberg, 9 May 2018 Ocean origins For Archimedes, the eureka moment came as he took a bath. For EMBL alumna Èlia Benito-Gutiérrez, the bath was a little bigger: she was on a boat in the Indian Ocean. Under the burning midday sun, Benito-Gutiérrez focused her portable microscope on the bizarre-looking creature again. From the asymmetrical egg pouch, the striped spine-like structure running like a stack of coins along its length, and the ever-intriguing mouth tentacles, it seemed that she had discovered the mythical Epigonichthys. Lost for more than 100 years, this elusive animal has still not been formally described. Yet its rediscovery is proving vital for evolutionary biology research and has made a major impact on Benito-Gutiérrez’s academic career.
Hinxton, 8 May 2018 20 years of building teams and sites After beginning his career at EMBL Heidelberg as the Internal Auditor, Mark went on to become the first Head of Administration at EMBL-EBI. We catch a glimpse of the personal highlights that defined Mark’s 20-year journey at EMBL as he retires to enjoy the next phase of his life.
Heidelberg, 7 May 2018 CRISPR: from clipping scissors to word processor In work that will help to make the gene editing process more precise, EMBL scientists, together with researchers at Stanford University, the Joint Institute of Metrology and Biology (JIMB), Texas A&M University, and Brandeis University, have developed a new kind of CRISPR platform called MAGESTIC. MAGESTIC makes CRISPR less like a blunt cutting tool and more like a word processor by enabling an efficient ‘search and replace’ function for genetic material. Nature Biotechnology publishes the results on 7 May 2018.
Hinxton, 3 May 2018 New insights into the origins of cancer Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the University of Dundee and the Wellcome Sanger Institute have used human and worm data to explore the mutational causes of cancer. Their study, published today in Genome Research, also shows that results from controlled experiments on a model organism – the nematode worm C. elegans – are relevant to humans, helping researchers refine what they know about cancer.
Heidelberg, 19 April 2018 A serendipitous window into life’s beginnings According to Descartes’ famous line, ‘to think is to be’. For modern-day biologists, it’s increasingly a case of ‘to metabolise is to be’. Markus Ralser, who will be a keynote speaker at the EMBO Workshop ‘Experimental Approaches to Evolution and Ecology Using Yeast and Other Model Systems’ at EMBL this October, shares how a fluke finding gave him insights into the origins of life.
Heidelberg, 19 April 2018 Dog microbiome closer to humans' than expected Dog and human gut microbiomes have more similar genes and responses to diet than previously thought, according to a study by EMBL scientist Luis Pedro Coelho and colleagues from the Bork group, published in Microbiome on April 19.
Heidelberg, 9 April 2018 New software makes 3D imaging accessible Structures inside cells, such as the nucleus and its proteins, are 3-dimensional. Yet scientists have often had to study such structures in 2D, because appropriately equipping microscopes was technically challenging and expensive. Jonas Ries, alongside his team and collaborators, have now published a paper in Nature Methods, showcasing their open-source 3D imaging software.
Heidelberg, 9 April 2018 Counting Condensins on chromosomes Chromosomes are highly organised, dense arrangements of DNA, which form every time our cells duplicate themselves. Two protein complexes, Condensin I and II, are known to help organise DNA strands into chromosomes during this process of mitosis, but it is unsure how. In a paper published in the Journal of Cell Biology, Jan Ellenberg and his group have measured how many Condensin proteins are bound to the chromosomes, during the different stages of mitosis, using quantitative live cell imaging.
Heidelberg, 28 March 2018 Welcome: Virginie Uhlmann Virginie Uhlmann is joining EMBL-EBI as a Research Group Leader in September 2018. Her research focuses on bioimage informatics – making sense of bioimaging using mathematical tools and computer vision algorithms. Virginie’s group works on collaborative interdisciplinary projects that sit at the intersection of biology, computer science and mathematics.
Rome, 26 March 2018 Captured on film for the first time: microglia nibbling on brain synapses Laetitia Weinhard, Cornelius Gross, and colleagues from EMBL Rome and the Schwab team have captured microglia nibbling on brain synapses. Their findings show that the special glial cells help synapses grow and rearrange, demonstrating the essential role of microglia in brain development. Nature Communications publishes the results on March 26.
Hinxton, 23 March 2018 New method probes gene expression by cell location Scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Wellcome Sanger Institute have developed a new computational method that improves the interpretation of data from the most recent single-cell technologies. SpatialDE is the first method to analyse gene expression variation while taking into account the cell’s precise location in tissues. Published in Nature Methods, the new approach will help scientists understand where and when genes are active or inactive within the same tissue. Having a clearer view of which genes are expressed most in a tissue has transformative potential for biomedical research.
Hamburg, 21 March 2018 Welcome: Maria Garcia Alai As Head of the Sample Preparation and Characterisation Facility at EMBL Hamburg, Maria Garcia Alai leads one of the best-equipped facilities in Europe. With state-of-the-art biosensors and a synchrotron on site, she will help users determine protein structures using different biophysical techniques.
Rome, 20 March 2018 From blood vessels to blood stem cells Cells – like those that make up our skin, heart, and brain – develop from stem cells. However, blood stem cells develop from vascular cells which line the walls of our blood vessels. EMBL Rome group leader, Christophe Lancrin, alongside first author Isabelle Bergiers, and their collaborators Tallulah Andrews and Martin Hemberg (Wellcome Sanger Institute), have published a paper in eLife focussing on the transcriptional regulation involved in this critical biological process.
Heidelberg, 19 March 2018 Commonly used drugs affect our gut bacteria One in four drugs with human targets inhibit the growth of bacteria in the human gut. These drugs cause antibiotic-like side-effects and may promote antibiotic resistance, EMBL researchers from the Bork, Patil, Typas, and Zeller groups report in Nature on March 19.
Heidelberg, 19 March 2018 Molecular cuisine for gut bacteria Scientific recipes to successfully grow and study gut bacteria in the lab: that’s what EMBL scientists from the Bork, Patil, and Typas groups are publishing in Nature Microbiology on March 19. They report on the nutritional preferences and growth characteristics of 96 diverse gut bacterial strains. Their results will help scientists worldwide advance our understanding of the gut microbiome.
Heidelberg, 15 March 2018 Potential new way to limit antibiotic resistance spreading One of the biggest current threats to global health is the rise of multi-drug resistant bacteria, caused by the spreading of antibiotic resistance amongst them. In an attempt to help fight this threat, EMBL researchers Anna Rubio-Cosials, Orsolya Barabas, and colleagues have unraveled the molecular basis of a major antibiotic resistance transfer mechanism. They also developed molecules and a proof-of-principle for blocking this transfer. Cell publishes their results on March 15.
Heidelberg, 14 March 2018 Chromatin usage in individual cells reveals developmental trajectories Both cell type and developmental stage can be deduced from chromatin accessibility measurements in thousands of single cells, researchers from the Furlong group at EMBL and the University of Washington show. They used this approach to uncover how cells in developing embryos regulate their identity as they decide what kind of cell to become. Nature publishes the results on March 14.
Heidelberg, 13 March 2018 The future of Training (3) 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of EMBL’s course and conference programme and ten years of training at EMBL-EBI. The final part of the mini-series keeps on exploring how EMBL training experts believe scientific training will evolve in the future.
Heidelberg, 12 March 2018 Science in a suitcase A fluorescence microscope can be like a magic box. If you twiddle the buttons just right, you can get informative and beautiful images. Yet understanding how one works is easier to grasp if you can build one. This is what students at the Internationale Gesamtschule Heidelberg (IGH) did, as part of the microscopy project, “From Nature to Technology – Microscopes in Action”, organised by EMBL’s teacher training programme, ELLS, and the Prevedel group. Students aged 15-16 years, built fluorescence microscopes from parts packaged within a portable kit and imaged biological specimens. On the 5th of March, Robert Prevedel, group leader at EMBL Heidelberg, spoke at IGH and answered questions from students.
Hamburg, 8 March 2018 Axon guidance and bundling are linked Rob Meijers’ lab at EMBL Hamburg found that axon guidance is more complicated than was thought. During spinal cord development, neurons have to project axons across the midline, to coordinate movements between the left and right sides of the body. Working with collaborators at Peking University, Meijers discovered how a molecule that guides axons towards the midline (Netrin-1) works together with another that drives axons to gather into bundles (Draxin). In a study published in Neuron, they determined the 3D structure of Draxin alone, bound to part of Netrin-1, and bound to the receptor that the axon uses to detect both guidance cues, and found that Netrin-1 and Draxin can link up to form a bridge between axons.
Hinxton, 7 March 2018 The genetic risk factors for depression Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the Wellcome Sanger Institute have found that the genetic contribution to depression may differ between people who have experienced serious adversities in their life and those who haven’t. Results from this genome-wide association study show that by removing people who have experienced major adversities from a cohort, researchers can get a clearer view of the molecular mechanisms associated with depression.
Heidelberg, 5 March 2018 A chance to make scientists’ voices heard In the context of a roundtable discussion between life scientists and the ERC Scientific Council, EMBO Director and EMBL group leader Maria Leptin reflects on the importance of providing feedback to create a European research environment that serves the needs of the community.
Heidelberg, 5 March 2018 ERC Scientific Council meets in Heidelberg More than 20 ERC Council members joined ERC President, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, for a three-day meeting held on EMBL’s Heidelberg campus to discuss topics of strategic importance for the funding body. As part of the meeting, Council members had an opportunity to mingle with local scientific leaders and ERC grantees from Southern Germany at a formal dinner at the Prinz Carl Palais in Heidelberg. An open workshop stimulated exchange between ERC representatives and the local life-science community on the opportunities and challenges of applying for and obtaining an ERC grant in the life sciences.
Heidelberg, 4 March 2018 Kendrew and Philipson Awards Winners 2018 From Big Data to viral enzymes, EMBL alumni are tackling questions across the full range of science disciplines. This year’s alumni awards celebrate this diversity by showcasing the work of Nils Gehlenborg, winner of the 2018 John Kendrew Young Scientist Award, and Raffaele De Francesco, winner of the 2018 Lennart Philipson Award.
Heidelberg, 22 February 2018 New cryo-EM service platform at EMBL Heidelberg Scientists who want to obtain detailed structures of biological molecules now have a new facility to turn to: the cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) service platform at EMBL Heidelberg. The platform enables scientists from other institutions to access state-of-the-art cryo-EM microscopes for high-resolution data collection. And experts are on hand to support researchers with everything from handling the microscopes to acquiring data at the highest possible resolution. At a user symposium earlier this month, scientists who have run their projects on the platform praised the quality of the results they obtained, and emphasised the outstanding, tailored support they received from specialists Wim Hagen and Felix Weis.
Heidelberg, 21 February 2018 Insights into the evolution of a signalling molecule Among developmental biologists, the signalling molecule retinoic acid is well known for its role in building the vertebrate body. Not much is known, however, about how such signals emerge in evolution. To investigate this, the Arendt lab at EMBL in Heidelberg have studied the role of retinoic acid signalling in a marine worm. In the study published in Science Advances, the team and their collaborators show that in the worm, retinoic acid acts like a metabolic timer that helps neurons to form at the right time and place during development.
Heidelberg, 21 February 2018 10x Genomics joins EMBL’s Corporate Partnership Programme California-based company 10x Genomics, Inc., whose innovative Chromium™ System was listed as one of the Top 10 innovations of 2017 by The Scientist, joins the EMBL Advanced Training Centre Corporate Partnership Programme. Under the programme’s auspices, 10x Genomics and EMBL will serve a global community of single-cell investigators, providing advanced training in single-cell genomics and transcriptomics to be hosted in the Advanced Training Centre in Heidelberg.
Heidelberg, 20 February 2018 Jacques Dubochet donates Nobel medal to EMBL Jacques Dubochet, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017, donated an official replica of his Nobel medal to EMBL. In the accompanying note, he states: “I am pleased to offer this copy of my Nobel medal to EMBL in testimony of my great thankfulness to an institution that, in my view, would deserve to be the laureate of the Prize.”
Barcelona, 16 February 2018 Women in Science Day School Event Neus Martinez and Xavi Diego, members of the Sharpe Group at EMBL Barcelona, visited the Eulàlia Bota Primary School, in the north of the city, to talk about women, science and curiosity with 6-year-old children. The objective of the event was to awake the Einstein and Marie Curie in them and try to share the idea that anyone could be a scientist as long as they are curious!
Heidelberg, 13 February 2018 The future of Training (2) 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of EMBL’s course and conference programme and ten years of training at EMBL-EBI. The second part of the mini-series keeps on exploring how EMBL training experts believe scientific training will evolve in the future.
Hinxton, 12 February 2018 Study identifies new diabetes genes Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), with colleagues at the Helmholtz Center Munich and the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC), have identified hundreds of genes that could play an important role in the development of metabolic diseases such as diabetes. Published in Nature Communications, the study identified novel links to metabolic traits for 429 genes in mice, and showed that 23 of these genes may play a role in human diabetes.
General, 12 February 2018 On the orchids of Darwin For Darwin Day, EMBL’s Andrea Cerase reflects on Darwin’s studies of orchids, which helped to establish the idea that many types of flowers are insect pollinated, and laid the foundations for an important branch of evolutionary studies – co-evolution.
Heidelberg, 31 January 2018 Using mini brains to understand big brains Ahead of the “Tissue Self-Organisation: Challenging the System” conference, speaker Madeline Lancaster shares how curiosity and serendipity culminated in her pioneering method to grow cerebral organoids. These miniaturised and simplified versions of the human brain produced in the lab are now used by researchers around the world.
Rome, 15 January 2018 Welcome: Matthieu Boulard New EMBL group leader Matthieu Boulard will work with his team in the Epigenetics and Neurobiology Unit to explore how stable gene silencing works. The central question that drives his research is why the addition of methyl groups to DNA prevents genes from being expressed. Boulard sees success as requiring a crucial mixture of creativity, good timing, and a high degree of tolerance to failure.