Annual Report 2021

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


Embracing the change

2021: a year of trailblazing in every one of EMBL’s missions

woman dressed in black stands at glass railing
Edith Heard, EMBL Director General. Credit: Kinga Lubowiecka/EMBL

We’ve all heard the saying that ‘change is the only constant in life’, and one might even add a corollary that the success of an organism – or of an organisation – can be measured in the way it responds to that change. During a worldwide pandemic that provided a multitude of changes with accompanying limitations, EMBL not only rose to challenges, but also transformed them into new opportunities.

When I reflect on the year, I am struck by the trailblazing nature of our staff who supported each other and have been part of many impressive initiatives, within EMBL and in collaboration with scientists in academia and industry in our member states. It is because of their unrivalled enthusiasm that we have continued to successfully carry out EMBL’s five missions in research, service, training, innovation and translation, and integrating European life sciences. 

I am also grateful to our member states who, through the EMBL Council, supported us in its historic endorsement and approval of EMBL’s new Programme ‘Molecules to Ecosystems’ 2022-2026 and associated financial plan. This Programme, starting in 2022, will launch EMBL into a new era and set the scene for European molecular biology to reach new heights and provide greater impact in the next five years.

you will quickly see why our member states showed an impressive commitment to EMBL’s future and the important role we play in advancing science.

This new era includes a change in how the EMBL Annual Report is published, with this edition becoming our first digital report – part of our commitment to sustainable operations. As an online publication, the report includes hyperlinks to our various scientific and organisational achievements of the year. 

One highlight is the launch of the AlphaFold Protein Structure Database by the artificial intelligence company DeepMind, which was made openly available by scientists at EMBL-EBI. By the end of 2021, this database contained more than 800,000 protein structures, and it will continue to open up completely new avenues of scientific discovery.

Alongside this, EMBL’s new, state-of-the-art Imaging Centre welcomed its first external users in 2021. The first class of fellows to EMBL’s ARISE Programme also arrived – kickstarting EMBL’s innovative infrastructure leadership training program. 

I am also proud to report that EMBL has committed itself to creating a more inclusive workplace founded in equality and diversity, as well as a strategy for establishing environmentally responsible operational and research practices

These are just a few examples of EMBL’s highlights in 2021. As you browse the Annual Report, I think you will quickly see why our member states showed an impressive commitment to EMBL’s future and the important role we play in advancing science. It’s a reflection of the EMBL community that gives me great pride as well as immense hope for a world made better through their commitment to embrace the change and remain perpetually curious.

Illustration of a community of bacteria. Pills represent an antibiotic that can be used to treat an infection, and a second drug that could protect many gut bacteria from antibiotics.

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