Annual Report 2023

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

Much more than the sum of our parts

EMBL programme hits its stride as EMBL works with partners to strengthen European science and the novel discoveries it affords

From the beginning, EMBL has been about togetherness. 

In 1974, 10 countries came together because they believed in the need and the potential for a European life sciences research organisation. Together, they supported this endeavour, and the institute that sprung up from this union likewise yielded benefits for all. Over the years, the number of member states has grown, as have the partners that expand what EMBL can do. When I look back on 2023, the basis of so much of what we have accomplished comes down to the extraordinary cooperation both within EMBL, and outside it with our member states, alumni, donors, and a huge network of collaborators around the world.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

From Helen Keller, the noted disability rights advocate, these words still ring true, especially at EMBL. Partnership and collaboration expands what we do collectively, but also individually. And it’s not just about swapping skill sets. Our perspective expands too. Partnerships multiply our capacity with mutual benefits for one another but also for scientific quests that go far beyond our own work as we build tools that help others. Our partners do allow us to do much more.

This past year, Latvia and Estonia formally joined us as member states. Scientific partners such as Latvia’s Biomedical Research and Study Centre and the University of Tartu in Estonia will only serve to make EMBL stronger. Likewise, Serbia became our latest prospect member state, and we look forward to exploring this relationship and sharing knowledge and expertise with its scientific organisations.

Read the full foreword here

“EMBL’s broad range of expertise, infrastructures, and capacities – in biology, high-performance computing, data analysis – can contribute to a broad range of current European research and innovation priorities. Access to these intergovernmental facilities is vital for European researchers and innovators.”

– Marc Lemaître, Director-General for Research and Innovation, European Commission

Mission 1: Research

To perform fundamental research in molecular biology

EMBL’s research aims to further advance our understanding of the molecular basis of life in context.

These scientific pursuits explore the basis of life at a molecular level and within the context of different environments. Seven research themes – molecular building blocks, multicellular dynamics, microbial ecosystems, infection biology, human ecosystems, planetary biology, and theory – offered significant, diverse findings and milestones in 2023.

“We as bioinformaticians learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also need to think about the future and how we can be better prepared.”

– Nick Goldman, EMBL-EBI Group Leader

Mission 2: Services

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

EMBL’s scientific services encompass over 40 bioinformatics and data resources and over 20 experimental services in structural biology, imaging, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, in vivo gene editing, chemical biology, and mobile labs.

Each year, EMBL researchers find new ways to improve both the technological offerings to users, as well as the way service is provided, such as its open access to an impressive array of bioinformatic tools. The year 2023 was no exception in its experimental services and facilities as well as its molecular data services.

“We have shown the potential of using the gut microbiome to investigate more sustainable and cost-effective animal feeds, and we hope other researchers and companies will continue this work worldwide…and companies will continue this work worldwide using the HoloFood Portal.

— Varsha Kale, Senior Bioinformatician at EMBL-EBI

Mission 3: Training

To train scientists, students, and visitors at all levels

The year 2023 saw training opportunities continue to grow at EMBL. EIPOD-LinC, a new postdoc programme, strengthened the connection between EMBL and its member states.

Additionally, EMBL provided training and shared scientific information to 8,676 people from 99 countries, who participated in its courses and conferences.

More long-term, the campus bustled with the activity of 256 PhD students, 228 postdocs, and 726 scientific visitors, benefiting from EMBL’s extraordinary expertise and technology.

“Attending ‘Plasticity in developing systems’ was a fantastic experience as an early career researcher. We took part in hands-on practical sessions exploring the relationship between environment and development in a range of organisms, attended inspired curiosity-driven research lectures and had the opportunity to meet and work alongside incredible young scientists. This is the future of Developmental Biology!”

—Jennifer Love, a PhD student at the University of Manchester and course participant

Mission 4: Innovation & Translation

To actively engage in technology transfer and industry relations

EMBL’s strengths in research, services, and training make it a perfect industry partner and a breeding ground for research that sows the seeds for technology transfer. EMBL’s tech transfer arm, EMBLEM, is pivotal to that success.

Novel training formats, among other new activities, help further develop an EMBL innovation culture, empower the next generation of EMBL fellows, and diversify current tools that assist knowledge exchange between EMBL and industry partners.

“Working at EMBL and learning about all the cool projects being executed made me realise how much interesting science is done at research institutes and universities. However, it is often hard to translate this cutting-edge research into real-world applications that, for example, improve patients’ lives or help tackle climate change. That is why I made the decision to work on this interface: translate state-of-the-art science into the wide world.”

— Sander Wuyts, EMBL postdoc 2020-21, who co-founded a start-up, ImmuneWatch in 2021

Mission 5: Integrating European Life Sciences

To coordinate and integrate European life science research

This EMBL mission stems from the principle that institutional collaborations, strategic alliances, and partnerships underpin scientific excellence across borders and disciplines.

In 2023, EMBL welcomed two new full members (Latvia and Estonia) and a prospect member state (Serbia) – a testament to EMBL’s recognised leadership and acknowledgment of the value and benefit of supporting and engaging with EMBL. 

When scientists work together, science progresses and discoveries become more possible and provide added perspective. This section provides highlights from the year related to building these impactful collaborations.

“EMBL is a truly impressive organisation. Access to this kind of infrastructure will mean a lot for the Estonian research community, and provide a great platform for career development under the best possible supervision. This partnership will also help us to build up our own system in Estonia, to welcome those researchers back at some point in the future.”

– Renno Veinthal, Deputy Secretary General for Research and Development, Higher Education, and Vocational Education and Training Policy , Estonia

People, Processes, & Places

In 2023, EMBL’s diverse community was divided into roles that span research, scientific services, technical or scientific support, training and outreach, administrative support, and other general support, such as communications. 

But the EMBL community goes far beyond those currently working and studying here. Our alumni, who go on to have wide-ranging impacts around the world, are the greatest evidence of the unwavering strength and influence EMBL has as a world-class scientific institute.

This section provides operationally related highlights from the year.

“From the first day, EMBL was an extraordinary organisation where you could come in as a young group leader and take your ideas and run with them….”

— Anne Ephrussi, EMBL Group Leader, 1992-2023; Head of Developmental Biology Unit, 2007-2021; Head of EICAT, 2005-2023

Reviews of EMBL units in 2023

EMBL Hamburg

EMBL Hamburg specialises in structural biology research and services. The unit is situated on the German Synchrotron Research Centre (DESY) campus and operates an integrated facility for applications in structural biology, including three state-of-the-art beamlines at the PETRA III synchrotron ring.

EMBL Developmental Biology Unit

Research in the Developmental Biology Unit is focused on understanding the origin, development, and evolution of organisms and their communities. Its goal is to explore the rich diversity and complexity of living systems, taking into account their natural context.

With 29 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.