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The Environmental Research Initiative (ERI)

Humanity faces massive challenges

The 2020s must be a decade in which we all help to solve the pressing problems that threaten humankind and our environment. These include climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss, and many others. Humanity has been placing too much pressure on the natural world, with devastating consequences – not least the COVID-19 pandemic, which experts have directly linked to habitat and biodiversity loss. We must act now to address these global problems and avoid catastrophic and irreversible damage to our planet. Our actions over the next 10 years will determine the future of life on Earth.

Life science research for our planet

The Environmental Research Initiative (ERI) aims to identify the best ideas and to empower the brightest scientists, to address global problems using molecular biology.

ERI will invest in the curiosity of scientists, paving the way for innovative and impactful solutions to our most complex environmental problems.

I started the Environmental Research Initiative because I see a tremendous chance in bringing EMBL’s world-leading know-how in the life sciences to the pressing problems of our times. Join me to help find new and creative solutions through research as the most effective way to preserve our environment.

Prof. Matthias Hentze, EMBL Director

EMBL currently has 2 new exciting ERI catalyst projects that need your support.

Microbial Mats: the ocean’s natural vacuum cleaners

The ocean covers about 70% of the Earth’s surface and is home to about one million species. However, pollution is a major threat to the ocean and its diverse ecosystems. One of these natural ecosystems known as microbial mats – multi-layered communities of microorganisms in the ocean – possesses the remarkable ability to degrade pollutants such as oil, microplastics, and even some heavy metals. New spatial -omics techniques at EMBL can help us better understand how these ‘natural vacuum cleaners’ break down chemical pollutants from the oceans, making it possible to design microbial mats that target specific pollutants. This way, they could be produced and deployed at no additional cost to the environment. (Required budget: €48,000/12 months; Budget used so far: €28,295)

Please visit the Pepperkok group page for more information.

Exploring plankton as a tool to combat marine pollution

Marine pollution is caused by human impact from agricultural pesticide application, release of industrial byproducts, manufacturing of pharmaceutical and personal-care products, as well as shipping discharges. It is highly toxic to aquatic organisms and has a huge impact on ecosystems, the seafood chain, and human health. Plankton, tiny organisms carried by tides and currents, are known to act as ‘gatekeepers,’ controlling the very first step of accumulation of pollutants in marine organisms. However, we do not yet know which plankton species absorb which specific pollutants and how, and what effect it has on the plankton communities themselves. EMBL’s cutting-edge analytical methods can be deployed to develop plankton-based indicators which can be used to monitor marine pollution and the health of marine ecosystems. (Required budget: €18,500/12 months)

Please visit the Zimmermann Group page for more information.

EMBL research tackles environmental challenges

EMBL scientists are already engaged in a number of environmental research projects. These environmental catalyst projects were only made possible by donations from Friends of EMBL and generous private citizens. With additional financial support, EMBL can enable even more large-scale innovative research to help find solutions for our planet. This is just the beginning of what EMBL can do – there are a great number of solutions waiting to be discovered.

ERI Catalyst Projects in 2021

Fighting pesticide pollution with microbes

This project enabled studying microbes that degrade pesticides by first establishing a chemical library of 1033 agricultural pesticides – a unique research resource not previously available. EMBL scientists developed advanced analytical methods and large-scale field protocols for the development of bioindicators. This new information may lead to the use of microbes as a biological way to better remove pesticide contamination, monitor pesticide pollution, and design greener chemicals. ERI support also helped to secure further funding (the EMBL ARISE Fellowship) to continue this project through 2024. (Budget used so far: €32,000)

Please visit the Zimmermann Group page for more information.

Tackling nanoplastic pollution

This project uses advanced molecular biology technology at EMBL to better understand the impact of nanoplastics. Combining an X-ray technology called small angle scattering and biophysical techniques, EMBL scientists have successfully established a ‘tool set’ to take a closer look at the size and shape of nanoplastics. With this new information, we can analyze nanoplastics in ‘real life samples’ such as water from the rivers, oceans, and in physiological relevant solutions such as blood. This will help us to better understand what happens when nanoplastics enter the ocean and our bodies, and the potential threats to our marine ecosystems and to human health. (Budget used so far: €19,000)

Please visit the Svergun group in Hamburg for more information.

Cleaning wastewater polluted from artificial hormones

This project focused on improving the detection and identification of artificial hormones polluting wastewater through advanced computations. With EMBL’s state-of-the-art technology, EMBL scientists developed a computational pipeline – a series of data processing calculations that may help improve the detection of artificial hormones in wastewater. Next steps include testing real-world samples from a local wastewater treatment plant and more diverse compounds, e.g. steroids, which will increase the validity and performance of the computational pipeline. (Budget used so far: €12,000)

Please visit the Zimmermann group page for more information.

Join us to make an impact for a healthier planet

We are seeking partners to join us on this journey and provide financial support for this exciting, vital initiative. Your donations will enable us to support new creative approaches and identify potential solutions to restore our planet.

With your support, ERI can create new opportunities to empower brilliant young scientists to address environmental problems, using the latest developments in molecular biology.

Let’s make it our joint responsibility, as citizens of our planet, to mitigate the damage done to our environment and invest in finding solutions.

Your donation and the investments we make today in life science research will help us secure a healthier planet for our children, grandchildren, and generations to come.

Please join us and make a donation, or get in touch if you would like to find out more: