Annual Report 2022

A year of exceptional life science research, services, training, industry collaboration, and integration of European life science research

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Providing for the future through science

EMBL embarks on its latest strategic programme, attracting collaborative engagement and launching a new era of life science research.

Created after Europe’s ‘brain drain’ crisis following WWII, EMBL was built to withstand future crises. The world came to realise that science was a means for finding answers and solutions. That’s still the case.

So, when I look back on 2022, I am struck by how our organisation – despite unexpected challenges – proved its mettle and value in conducting all-important research as well as delivering services, training, and innovation, more than ever before. 

We launched our Molecules to Ecosystems Programme that has already reaped benefits, garnered widespread support within and outside of the organisation, and most importantly, conveyed the necessary role molecular biology can and will play in understanding important global issues. 

In this annual report, you will see numerous stories of harnessing our best molecular life science tools – from beamlines to cryo-EM to genomic sequencing to machine learning – all to shed light on the molecular basis of life from EMBL’s unique, multidisciplinary, and international perspective.

Read the full foreword here

Edith Heard, EMBL Director General. Credit: Kinga Lubowiecka/EMBL

“Thanks to collaboration with EMBL experts, we’re going beyond technical and technological boundaries. We also have enriching exchanges about biological questions to see how we can make improvements.”

— Mohamed-Ali Hakimi, Directeur de recherche INSERM, Institute for Advanced Biosciences (Grenoble)

Mission 1: Research

To perform fundamental research in molecular biology

EMBL is Europe’s life sciences laboratory. The year 2022 marked the beginning of a new institutional programme, Molecules to Ecosystems, and with that a broadened research scope that included studying the molecular mechanisms of ecosystems and life in context. With this wider outlook, EMBL researchers built on its core research to go also in new directions and collaborate across disciplines while continuing to shed important insights on fundamental molecular biology research. 

From using artificial intelligence to discover the mysteries around a true molecular giant, to research tools that provide new molecular insights to better understand agricultural pesticides, EMBL researchers had a prolific year. The fundamental research provided in  the Programme can transform our understanding of life on earth and informs potential solutions for some of society’s biggest challenges, such as irreversible loss of biodiversity, antimicrobial resistance, pollution, climate change, food security, and emergent pathogens.

“The cryo-ET work at EMBL establishes a transformative framework to do high-resolution structural biology in context. Ribosomes and mycoplasma cells are just the beginning. I believe the golden age of structural biology is yet to come.”

– Liang Xue, Mahamid Group postdoctoral fellow, on critical EMBL techniques and collaborations for his research and their wider impacts

Mission 2: Services

To offer vital services to scientists in the member states and beyond

EMBL’s scientific services and facilities provide a range of services that help illuminate what we can learn about life sciences. In 2022, users from across Europe and beyond gained access to EMBL’s expertise, technologies, and open data. The Imaging Centre started its first full year of service and structural biologists in Grenoble supported vital infection biology research.

EMBL-EBI was at the forefront of ensuring that biodiversity data were openly available to the global scientific community and continued to enable 107 million web requests a day.

“There are very few people doing cryo-electron microscopy in the field. When you think of fieldwork equipment, you think of binoculars, not of sample preparation for high-end cryo-EM. The power of this technology is opening up new questions that biologists anywhere can now address. During the TREC expedition, EMBL mobile labs will enable this and more.”

— Anna Steyer, Cryo-Electron Tomography Specialist, Mattei Team at EMBL Heidelberg

Mission 3: Training

To train scientists, students, and visitors at all levels

As EMBL returned to in-person training in 2022, EMBL provided training and helped share scientific information to 8,736 people via its virtual courses and conferences from 94 countries that included 125 PhD students and 94 postdocs, and 670 scientific visitors. The year also included the start of EIPOD-LinC, a new postdoc programme that strengthens the connection between EMBL and its member states.

Additionally, an EMBL Fellows Career Service study showed a broadening occupational path for early-career scientists that confirmed the need for EMBL career workshops and seminars to continue sharing a wide range of career options to participants.

This course far exceeded my expectations; it was the perfect mixture of theory, hands-on experiments, and networking. An incredible opportunity not only to learn but also to meet people from all over the world.”

– Antonela Lavatelli, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics; Attendee of an EMBL course in July 2022

Mission 4: Innovation & Translation

To actively engage in technology transfer and industry relations

Industry-EMBL collaborations are win-win. This past year EMBL ‘beta tested’ a next-generation flow cytometer developed by BD Biosciences, offering vital researcher insights to the company while also benefiting from this new technology.  Additional joint activity like the cooperation established this year with the BioInnovation Institute in Denmark, will help guide entrepreneurial innovations grounded in molecular biology.

These EMBL activities are supported by EMBLEM, EMBL’s wholly owned commercial tech transfer partner, that in 2022 helped develop and conclude collaborations between 51 industry partners and 25 EMBL scientists. 

“We are pleased to collaborate with EMBL, which represents some of the most cutting-edge life sciences research in Europe. Together we can boost our shared vision of utilising life science innovation to create an impact for people and society.”

— Markus Herrgård, BioInnovation Institute Foundation (BII)’s Chief Technology Officer

Mission 5: Integrating European Life Sciences

To coordinate and integrate European life science research

EMBL scientists and experts from various departments provided coordination and support for colleagues across member states throughout 2022, including EMBL’s Partnership Conference, seminars, info days, scientific and awareness workshops and joint research projects. These activities were essential for projects upholding the implementation of EMBL’s five-year Programme, such as the Planetary Biology flagship project, Traversing European Coastlines (TREC), that will combine the expertise and infrastructure of EMBL and multiple European partners to initiate a new era of coastal ecosystems exploration.

Likewise, new collaborative agreements established in 2022 added to a powerful and growing network of European scientific partners that aims to bridge the gaps of the life science landscape.

“Science is global and the Ministry of Science and Education considers international scientific cooperation one of its strategic goals. These Info Days are a new step towards strengthening scientific potential in Croatia.”

– Hrvoje Meštrić, Director for Science and Technology at the Ministry of Science and Education, Croatia

People, Processes, & Places

Scientific excellence thrives when the  organisation thrives. EMBL continues to prioritise and advance initiatives in open science, sustainability, and equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Its community is strong because every single person working at EMBL plays a key role in the organisation’s success, and the research it helps to advance worldwide. 

Additionally, EMBL’s alumni community shows again and again how EMBL nurtures scientists to go beyond their time at EMBL and continue having great impacts in science and related fields.

“At EMBL, we are reconsidering when and how we use plastic in our labs, and participating in LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework) helps us be more sustainable in how we do science. I don’t foresee any problems in trying to install good practices, but we need to make them the default and not the exception.”

— Flora Vincent, Group Leader at EMBL Heidelberg

Reviews of EMBL units in 2022

EMBL Barcelona

EMBL’s newest site, opened in 2017, focuses on tissue biology and disease modelling, including questions about the molecular control of embryonic tissues, and applied projects which model a wide range of disease types using 3D in vitro human tissues.

EMBL Core Facilities

EMBL Core Facilities in Heidelberg provide life science researchers with the latest scientific expertise and technologies, such as light and electron microscopy, chemical biology, metabolomics, proteomics, genomics, flow cytometry, and protein expression and purification.

EMBL Training

EMBL’s multifaceted training programme targets all career stages in the life sciences. Alongside formal scientist training, our Science Education and Public Engagement Office (SEPE, formerly ELLS) shares scientific discoveries with young learners and teachers through inspiring activities.

EMBL Structural and Computational Biology

This unit’s transdisciplinary research programme includes themes of structural cell biology, systems biology, microbiome research, spatial metabolomics, single-cell genomics, multi-omics, data integration, and structural bioinformatics.

With 28 member states, laboratories at six sites across Europe and thousands of scientists and engineers working together, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) is a powerhouse of biological expertise. EMBL is an intergovernmental organisation, headquartered in Heidelberg, and was founded in 1974 with the mission of promoting molecular biology research in Europe, training young scientists, and developing new technologies.

EMBL currently employs more than 1,800 people in Barcelona​​GrenobleHamburgHeidelbergEMBL-EBI Hinxton (near Cambridge), and Rome.

Publishing hundreds of research articles and hosting dozens of conferences every year, EMBL is driving visionary fundamental research, and training Europe’s future scientific talent.