SBI and EMBL: Exploring Collaborations to Address Big Challenges in Biology

Written by: Elaine Quinn
Written on: Thursday, 19 June, 2014

SBI was delighted to welcome distinguished colleagues from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), one of the world’s leading research institutions, in a one-day joint scientific workshop to explore opportunities for future collaborative projects on Monday, 16 June 2014 at University College Dublin.

The emphasis of the meeting was to focus respective expertise and research capacities on the big challenges in 21st century biology. SBI and EMBL group leaders shared their research with SBI staff and EMBL alumni in a series of stimulating and engaging talks throughout the day. 

Launching the event, Professor Iain Mattaj, EMBL Director General commented, “Sharing knowledge and exchanging experiences is key to successful research, so this meeting is a valuable opportunity to explore how we at EMBL can work even closer with Ireland’s leading research facility for systems biology.”

Welcoming the EMBL colleagues, Professor Walter Kolch, SBI Director said, “We are witnessing a paradigm shift in biology and biomedical research where the limitations of research progress stem from data interpretation rather than data production. 

Interpreting the function of biological regulation systems and their malfunctioning in diseases, like cancer, is at the heart of SBI’s research interests and a main topic not only for EMBL but also within the EU Horizon 2020 funding programmes.” 

One area of particular focus was the question of how best to cope with the huge quantities of data being produced by modern technologies as well as harnessing the potential of the latest emergent area in biology, systems biology.

Dr Ewan Birney, Associate Director of EMBL-EBI, described how his work on information storage in synthesised DNA stemmed from a conversation with a colleague in the pub and led to a Naturepublication.

Another highlight of the day was the review SBI Deputy Director Prof. Boris Kholodenko presented of his groundbreaking work on receptor tyrosine kinase signalling.

The links between the two organisations are manifold and ongoing; SBI Prof. Des Higgins who organised the event is an alumnus of EMBL Heidelberg while Dr Eileen Furlong, Head of Genome Biology Unit and senior scientist at EMBL Heidelberg, completed her PhD at UCD under the supervision of Prof Finian Martin, UCD Conway Institute.

EMBL is Europe’s flagship laboratory for the life sciences, with more than 80 independent groups covering the spectrum of molecular biology. This year marks the 40th anniversary of EMBL’s foundation in 1974; it continues to grow and exert influence and has just welcomed the Czech Republic, its 21st member state.

Pictured (L-R) Dr Ewan Birney (Associate Director, EMBL-EBI), Dr Vladimir Benes (Head of Genomics Core Facility, EMBL Heidelberg), Prof. Boris Kholodenko (Deputy Director, SBI), Dr Eileen Furlong (Head of Genome Biology, EMBL Heidelberg), Prof. Iain Mattaj (Director General, EMBL), Dr. Mehrnoosh Rayner (Head of Alumni Relations, EMBL), Prof. Walter Kolch (Director, SBI), Dr Dónal O'Carroll (Group Leader, EMBL Monterotondo), Des and Dr Anton Enright (Group Leader, EMBL-EBI)