Alumni raise €160,000 to tackle environmental challenges – Alumni relations

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Alumni raise €160,000 to tackle environmental challenges

Flora Vincent (left) and Thomas Beavis (right) in Tallinn, Estonia sampling TREC samples.

An EMBL alumni fundraising campaign launched in 2022 to support EMBL’s Environmental Research Initiative (ERI) has surpassed its goal of €18,500 to raise more than €160,000 to support vital environmental research thanks to donations from members of the EMBL community.

The initial crowd-funded total of €10,340 was supplemented by a generous €150,000 gift from alumni Roel and Marijke Wijnaendts, who were inspired by the plankton project: “Plankton is the start of life, and it could also save life,” Roel pointed out.

The €10,340 raised in the first year of the fundraising call enabled Zimmermann Group postdoctoral fellow Richard Jacoby to begin his ERI catalyst project, ‘Exploring plankton as a tool to combat marine pollution’, by purchasing the necessary consumables and hiring a Masters Student, Sandra Kindler.

Following this, a significant step was made with the collaboration between the Zimmermann and Vincent labs, where complementary expertise and overlaps were quickly identified to drive the project forward. With supervision from Richard and Vincent Group predoctoral fellow Soraya Zwahlen, Sandra pilot-tested innovative methods and protocols to measure how plankton respond to pollutants. She also helped assemble a comprehensive library of approximately 250 chemicals representing priority marine pollutants.

Sandra Kindler

The work carried out by Sandra has set the stage for larger-scale experiments with the aim to screen plankton for their responses to pollutants, measuring toxicity and bioaccumulation.

The generous donation from Roel and Marijke Wijnaendts started a chain reaction that led to the order of a plankton scanner critical for the Vincent Lab, and highlighted the impact of many smaller donations, without which this larger gift would not have happened.

The plankton scanner will open major possibilities, significantly accelerating research in this area.

Flora Vincent said: “ERI support has enabled us to kickstart a fruitful collaboration that explores uncharted areas at the interface of phytoplankton, their microbiome, and marine chemical pollution. Most importantly, it has given me the necessary push to take a risk I may have otherwise not taken.”

ERI was set up in 2020 as a bold initiative to drive cutting-edge research on environmental issues using any aspect of modern molecular biology at EMBL. It seeks to recruit pioneering scientists to tackle environmental challenges and empower them to realise their scientific ideas with EMBL’s unrivaled research expertise and state-of-the-art molecular biology technologies.

ERI projects serve as stepping stones, demonstrating proof of concept of what EMBL can do in environmental research at minimal cost.

The aim of ERI catalyst projects is to empower and equip fellows to explore initiatives which tackle environmental challenges, alongside their core research. Successful project outcomes can more easily convince funders to back these research areas at larger scale. Information about the next phase of the fundraising campaign, which will begin in 2024, will be shared with the EMBL alumni community soon.

To find out more in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact Niki Pham and Matthias Hentze at eri@embl.org.

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