Connecting shores and exploring new avenues for collaboration with Malta

During a visit by high-level representatives of EMBL’s member state Malta, the honourable delegation allowed us a peek behind the scenes of their scientific and institutional collaborations, sharing memories and aspirations for future cooperation with EMBL

4 people are standing in front of a man, Vladimir Benes, who speaks to them
Hon. Keith Azzopardi Tanti, Junior Minister responsible for Youth, Research, and Innovation in Malta; Karmenu Vella, former member of the European Commission, and Melissa Formosa, Malta's delegate to EMBL since 2022 discuss with Vladimir Benes, Head of EMBL's Genomics Core Facility. Credit: Massimo Del Prete/EMBL

A Maltese delegation visited the EMBL campus in Heidelberg earlier this year. It included Hon. Keith Azzopardi Tanti, Junior Minister responsible for Youth, Research, and Innovation in Malta, accompanied by Karmenu Vella, former member of the European Commission, where he was in charge of Environment, Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries (2014 – 2019), and Melissa Formosa. Formosa, an associate professor for Molecular Biology at the University of Malta, has been Malta’s delegate to EMBL since 2022. 

The delegation engaged in open exchanges and scientific dialogues on topics and timelines to further stimulate the joint cooperation between EMBL and Malta, based on Malta’s scientific expertise, especially in marine biology, genomics, and bioinformatics.

Strengthening cooperation in bioinformatics, genomics and marine Biology 

The guests joined several tours of EMBL’s unique science infrastructure assets, including the core facilities, the EMBL Imaging Centre, and EMBL’s exhibition ‘The World of Molecular Biology’. During several meetings, the delegation engaged with EMBL leading scientists to explore fresh avenues for collaboration and liaison with the Maltese scientific community.  Among others, the delegation met with Vladimir Benes, Head of Genomics Core Facility,  who has hosted several Maltese scientists in past years. EMBL had previously organised two training units in Malta titled ‘Genome Biology’ and ‘Genes, Research and Disease’. The trainings were organised in collaboration with the Ministry for Education and Employment, the University of Malta, and the Mater Dei Hospital, and included research and student visits to EMBL Heidelberg and EMBL-EBI in Hinxton. 

The Maltese guests also expressed their interest in enhancing cooperation with EMBL in relation to the ERA Chair recently secured by the University of Malta. The ERA Chairs on ‘Bioinformatics for Genomics in Malta’ will merge the strengths of the University of Malta in information and communication technology and genomics. Rolf Apweiler, joint Director of EMBL-EBI, and Cath Brooksbank, Head of EMBL-EBI Training, offered an overview of EMBL-EBI’s expertise in bioinformatics and data management, as well as the range of bioinformatics training available to strengthen the skills of the scientific community in Malta.

“I can definitely say that there is an increased interest amongst university researchers in the courses that are being offered by EMBL-EBI,” confirmed Formosa. 

The guests also had the opportunity to visit the Advanced Mobile Laboratory, which was then at EMBL Heidelberg, preparing for the second phase of the land-sea expedition TREC. Minister Tanti noted that he envisages Malta as a mobilising country, which will create a go-to place for research on emergent topics in life sciences, including marine and aquatic molecular biology research, thus establishing Malta as an important base for more extensive marine research in the Mediterranean region. The minister expressed his eagerness to further explore how Malta and EMBL can find mutually beneficial platforms for cooperation in this field.

Formosa was also excited about the future possibilities: “I am looking forward to the possibility of having EMBL’s mobile laboratory visit Malta in the future. I believe that hosting EMBL’s mobile laboratory in Malta could further support and strengthen our maritime initiatives, generating heightened interest among researchers, industry professionals, and students of all ages. The research that is being undertaken by TREC and the mobile laboratory is impressive.”

Institutional cooperation: MoU with the University of Malta

The delegation also exchanged thoughts with EMBL Director General Edith Heard, Head of International Relations Plamena Markova, and EMBL’s Director of Core Facilities and Services Rainer Pepperkok, on the strengths of the current EMBL programme, particularly the Planetary Biology transversal theme and the TREC flagship project. Discussions focused on finding strategic directions of engagement with Malta in the programme in 2024 and beyond, relying also on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the University of Malta in June 2022.

“One of my personal highlights of our partnership is when the University of Malta signed the Memorandum of Understanding with EMBL in 2022, soon after I became an official Maltese delegate for EMBL,” recalled Formosa. “I was one of the people at the University of Malta who facilitated the process, and it brought a lot of interesting discussions with different departments at the University of Malta and EMBL. Setting up the MoU helped to increase EMBL’s visibility and served as a foundation for possible collaborations between EMBL and Maltese researchers, enhancing access to vital research tools for Malta’s scientific community. We were very happy with the positive feedback we received from academics, researchers, and students after announcing the news.”

Malta joined EMBL in 2016 and has been actively engaging across EMBL’s missions. Within the current programme and the framework of the MoU with University of Malta, the partners expect collaborations and engagement to increase and flourish even more.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the warm hospitality extended to us and for the honour of being invited to the EMBL headquarters in Heidelberg. I truly enjoyed the visit, including the stimulating discussions and exchange of views, the presentations of ongoing research and activities, and the tours of the premises and displays. I feel that our visit represented a pivotal moment in advancing our collaborative endeavours, and we look forward to exploring new frontiers together,” said Formosa. 

a group of 12 people are posing for a group picture
The Maltese delegation and EMBL Director General Edith Heard; Rolf Apweiler, joint Director of EMBL-EBI; Director of Core Facilities and Services Rainer Pepperkok; Head of International Relations Plamena Markova; Nikolaus Leisch, Operational Manager-EMBL Mobile Services; and Flora Vincent and Michael Dorrity, group leaders at EMBL. Credit: Massimo Del Prete/EMBL

Tags: international relations


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