- Amount raised so far: €10,340
- Goal for funding one ERI project: €18,500
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The Environmental Research Initiative (ERI) provides financial support to EMBL scientists seeking to better understand and tackle environmental challenges. This is done at the moment by funding catalyst projects. In the future, we aspire towards the support of new groups, each focusing on a specific area of research linked to tackling pressing environmental challenges.
The first catalyst project we have chosen to fund on behalf of alumni is the EMBL Zimmermann group’s exploration of plankton as a tool to combat marine pollution.
In April 2022, the alumni community raised €7,355 towards funding this project, which costs €18,500. The second phase of the campaign begins in October, and we are aiming to raise a further €11,000 to kick-start the project by the beginning of 2023. Thank you very much to those who have already donated (see list under ‘Donors’ tab).
Find out more about this exciting project below.
An accumulation of pollutants in organisms caused by agriculture, industry, and pharmaceuticals is harming marine biodiversity, ecosystems and seafood.
Plankton, tiny organisms carried by tides and currents, are gatekeepers of bioaccumulation, but there is currently a knowledge gap in this area.
This project will research plankton as bioindicators rather than fish or molluscs which are typically used as marine bioindicators. Plankton have advantages compared to bigger species, because they control the first step of bioaccumulation, and because they initiate cascades that have knock-on effects on the rest of the ecosystem.
Another key point of difference in this project, compared to other environmental monitoring work, is the use of advanced technologies like sequencing and mass spectrometry. Cutting-edge analytical methods will be deployed to define specific plankton species, the toxic pollutants they absorb and the mechanisms of bioaccumulation.
This pilot will allow us to explore the potential and feasibility of using plankton to study pollutants and their fate in the environment.
This 1-year project costs €18,500 for a designated masters project plus the consumable costs used in mass spectrometry and sequencing.
Three catalyst projects that address pollution from pesticides, nanoplastics and artificial hormones were funded in 2021 from donations amounting to just over €60,000. Find out more about the outcomes of the three projects below:
Pesticides used in agriculture are a major threat for soil and water ecosystems. Although it is known that microbes can break down pesticides, it is still not well understood which microbes do this and how they do it.
In the past year, this project has established a chemical library of 1033 agricultural pesticides, which is a unique resource because no pesticide library was previously commercially available.
EMBL developed analytical methods to systematically map which microbes degrade which pesticides and established protocols to monitor pesticide pollution in the field on a large-scale level.
Furthermore, this project made it possible to recruit a dedicated scientist, whose success secured an ARISE fellowship to continue working on this project until 2024.
In the future, this research will help identify ways to better remove pesticides from the environment and to design greener chemicals.
The daily use of pharmaceuticals introduces a high load of artificial hormones into the wastewater and the environment, which is harmful to fish and local ecosystems. However, it is currently a major hurdle to be able to detect and identify these hormones.
In 2021, EMBL developed a preliminary computational pipeline, a series of data processing calculations that may help improve the detection of artificial hormones in wastewater. In the near future, real-world samples will be sampled from a local wastewater treatment plant and the computational pipeline will be expanded for more diverse compounds such as steroids.
This will improve the validity and performance of the computational pipeline, which is necessary to improve the detection and identification of artificial hormones.
Eight million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the oceans each year. This plastic waste eventually breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics and nanoplastics, which can cause serious problems for animals, humans, and ecosystems. However, the precise impacts of nanoplastics remain largely unexplored.
Combining advanced X-ray technology and biophysical techniques, EMBL scientists have successfully established a ‘tool set’, allowing them to take a closer look at the size and shape of nanoplastics. With this new information, they will be able to start analysing the behavior of nanoplastics in ‘real life samples’ such as water from the rivers, oceans and in physiological relevant solutions such as blood.
This will help them better understand what happens to nanoplastics when they enter the ocean and our bodies and the potential threats to our marine ecosystems and to human health. Key experiments are ongoing. Watch this space for outcomes.
ERI complements the EMBL Programme by addressing an area of need which is not covered by the EMBL Budget.
In the future, we aspire towards supporting new groups at EMBL which will focus on a specific area of research linked to tackling pressing environmental challenges.
Donations will be used to fund and kickstart catalyst projects which will build on those already set up. Ultimately, we hope that this grassroots alumni campaign will encourage philanthropists and charitable trusts to help fund ERI on an even larger scale.
Applications, which are only open to EMBL scientists, are now closed for 2022. To find out more, click here (internal access only)
Your support as an ambassador for ERI is invaluable. You can help by spreading the word within your networks and raising awareness of ERI amongst potential donors and anyone with interest or expertise in tackling global environmental challenges.
A huge thanks to all the donors supporting the ERI Alumni fundraising campaign, who are listed below.
Funds raised in April were supplemented by a €1,000 personal donation from Matthias Hentze, as promised during the campaign.
To view all donors supporting ERI outside this campaign please visit the ERI Donors page.
Please get in touch if you would like to find out more:
EMBL Head of Alumni Relations
Through the collective impact of the global EMBL alumni community of more than 5,000 members, we are aiming to raise €18,500 to fund the EMBL Zimmermann group’s exploration of plankton as a tool to combat marine pollution. €7,355 has already been raised following our alumni campaign in April 2022.
If 250 alumni give between €25 to €50 each, we will raise enough to fund this project through the community by 9 December 2022 and get it off the ground by the beginning of 2023.
Donate now and help us support research that addresses urgent global challenges.
Director, Co-Director of MMPU
EMBL Alumni Association Board member, Former EMBL-EBI Head of Administration