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RDT info logoMagazine on European research Special issue - February 2007   

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Title  At the cutting-edge of European life sciences

Created in 1974 and now financed by 19 partner states, the EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) is a multi-location research, training and teaching centre. It is based on close collaboration between scientists of all nationalities involved in molecular biology.

As well as being a centre of excellence in molecular biology attracting the best researchers, EMBL also attaches great importance to the training of undergraduate and PhD students.
As well as being a centre of excellence in molecular biology attracting the best researchers, EMBL also attaches great importance to the training of undergraduate and PhD students.
© M.Schupp/EMBL
About 80 research groups are spread throughout the five EMBL laboratories. Its headquarters in Heidelberg (Germany) covers the whole spectrum of research in molecular biology, from the study of molecules to the embryonic development of organisms and the emergence of cellular components.

Five laboratories in symbiosis

The two ‘Outstations’ in Hamburg (Germany) and Grenoble (France) are both on sites possessing synchrotrons. The Grenoble- based ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility), ILL (Institut Laue – Langevin), EMBL Grenoble Outstation and IBS (Institut de Biologie Structurale) founded the Partnership for Structural Biology (PSB) in 2002. The PSB is located in Grenoble on the International Campus of ESRF, ILL and EMBL, and shares a new dedicated laboratory complex, the Carl-Ivar Brändén Building, with the IVMS (Institut de Virologie Moleculaire et Structurale, funded by Université Joseph Fourier of Grenoble).Researchers at Monterotondo, near Rome (EMBL Mouse Biology Unit), work on the functions of genes. They use their knowledge to develop mouse models of human diseases to undertake biomedical research, and work closely with the Italian national research groups (CNR) and the European Mouse Mutant Archive (EMMA). The EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute, located on the campus of the Sanger Institute at Hinxton, near Cambridge (UK), manages one of the largest biological data banks in the world.

These sites all work in close collaboration, with a flexibility that is characteristic of the institution as a whole. Tasks are carried out by independent research groups according to thematic programmes. The structures encourage interdisciplinary work and interaction between teams.

The EMBL also offers a wide spectrum of services to European scientists. The most widely used are the free database of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and access to the cyclotron in Hamburg and the synchrotron in Grenoble. Technology and instruments developed by the organisation are also available to companies in the sector (EMBL-Enterprise Management).

Diffusion, training, debate

The diffusion of knowledge and the training of young people called on to continue the business of research are two essential parts of the organisation. About 170 PhD students are enrolled in the famous EMBL International PhD Programme, conducted in partnership with 24 universities in 17 countries. The research teams offer positions to researchers of all nationalities in all stages of their careers. The international conferences and workshops organised each year by the EMBL for the European scientific community are always a great success.

Also concerned by the societal implications of the incredible evolution of life sciences, the EMBL has given itself the task of strengthening relations between science and society and communicating its research to those ‘outside the boundaries’. The European laboratory proposes a dynamic programme (Science and Society) geared towards establishing a dialogue between scientists and the general public.

In another domain, the European Learning Laboratory for the Life Sciences (ELLS) allows motivated teachers to delve into the heart of the new cutting-edge aspects of a discipline in which the growth and diversity of knowledge are ever increasing.

The EMBL also welcomes EIROforum’s Science in School magazine, which aims to demonstrate new methods of teaching sciences (see page 4).

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