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New Joint Directors of EMBL-EBI

Ewan Birney and Rolf Apweiler step up to lead EMBL-EBI, with effect from 1 July 2015

Dr Rolf Apweiler (left) and Dr Ewan Birney (right) have been appointed Joint Directors of EMBL-EBI as Professor Dame Janet Thornton (centre) steps down after 14 years as Director. PHOTO: Jon Mold

Ewan Birney and Rolf Apweiler have been appointed Joint Directors of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory – European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) as Dame Janet Thornton steps down after 14 years in post. They will assume their new roles with effect from 1 July 2015.

Birney and Apweiler have both enjoyed long and distinguished careers at EMBL-EBI, and were appointed Joint Associate Directors in 2012. As Joint Directors, they will share responsibility for all aspects of EMBL-EBI, including services, research, training, industry engagement and European coordination. Birney and Thornton will continue to lead their respective research groups.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Janet Thornton

Iain Mattaj, Director General of EMBL: “It is my pleasure to announce that Ewan Birney and Rolf Apweiler will become Joint Directors of EMBL-EBI this summer. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Janet Thornton as she steps down from the leadership of the institute in June after an outstanding 14 years as its Director. She has led and shaped EMBL-EBI and its activities admirably, as it has become a global leader in bioinformatics. I have worked with Ewan and Rolf for many years and have every confidence in their ability to steer EMBL-EBI in new directions going forward, whilst upholding the high quality of service delivery for which the Institute is so well respected.”

Their energy, experience and vision will help us integrate bioinformatics into new translational areas of science.

Dame Janet Thornton, Director of EMBL-EBI: “I am delighted that Ewan and Rolf will be taking over the leadership when I step down as Director this summer. They have been sharing key leadership roles since 2007, and we have all seen how their complementary strengths bring tangible benefit to the organisation. Their energy, experience and vision will help us integrate bioinformatics into new translational areas of science. As Joint Directors, they will be uniquely placed to harness the talent of EMBL-EBI’s staff to deliver exceptional outcomes in the life sciences.”

EMBL-EBI, the European hub for big data in biology, is based on the Wellcome Genome Campus near Cambridge in the UK. As part of EMBL, it has a responsibility to collect, annotate, archive and share data from publicly funded life-science experiments with the global scientific community.

In the 20 years since its founding, EMBL-EBI has grown very rapidly and now handles many petabytes of data via three separate data centres. This growth is due in large part to the falling cost of DNA sequencing.

Ewan Birney: “EMBL-EBI has done extremely well over the past decade thanks to Janet’s excellent leadership, and her ability to build strong, strategic collaborations that benefit everyone. We will continue this work, and build on it to create closer links with our translational partners, in particular in the clinic. This will help bridge the gap between research and practical applications, which is essential for the discovery of new medicines and agricultural improvements. Delivering EMBL-EBI’s public services and ensuring they keep pace with the changing needs of biologists will remain our top priority, and that requires well-developed research and training programmes as well as on-going collaborations with industry.”

Our goal will remain to enable science that benefits society

Rolf Apweiler: “Janet Thornton is a hard act to follow, but we are confident that our combined leadership will secure EMBL-EBI’s abilities to handle rapid growth and change over the next decade. Our goal will remain to enable science that benefits society through advances in healthcare, the environment and agriculture, and that means bringing forward the institute’s efforts to make bioinformatics more translational.”

About Rolf Apweiler

Rolf Apweiler has a PhD in Biology from the University of Heidelberg and joined EMBL in 1987 to work on the Swiss-Prot protein sequence database; he became leader of the Swiss-Prot group at EMBL-EBI in 1994. Apweiler and Birney jointly led the Protein and Nucleotide Data resources at EMBL-EBI from 2007-2012, and were responsible for the delivery of bioinformatics services as Joint Associate Directors from 2012. Rolf Apweiler was and still is actively involved in many international collaborations and initiatives including the Human Proteome Organization (HUPO) Proteomics Standards Initiative (HPSI), which he chaired from 2002-2005. He served on several committees, review panels and advisory boards, including the Nomenclature Committee of IUBMB (the Enzyme Commission), the FlyBase advisory board, the Scientific Committee of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) and the Scientific Advisory Board of the Human Proteome Resource (HPR) program in Sweden. Apweiler served on several journal editorial or advisory boards and has published more than 250 papers and book chapters. He was elected a member of EMBO in 2011 and a fellow of ISCB in 2015.

About Ewan Birney

Birney played a vital role in annotating the genome sequences of the human, mouse, chicken and several other organisms; this work has had a profound impact on our understanding of genomic biology. He led the analysis group for the ENCODE project, which is defining functional elements in the human genome. His main areas of research include functional genomics, assembly algorithms, statistical methods to analyse genomic information and compression of sequence information.

Birney completed his PhD at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute with Richard Durbin in 2000. He received the 2003 Francis Crick Award from the Royal Society, the 2005 Overton Prize from the International Society for Computational Biology and the 2005 Benjamin Franklin Award for contributions in Open Source Bioinformatics, as well as many other prestigious awards. Birney was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2014 and received an Honorary Professor of Bioinformatics degree from the University of Cambridge in 2015.

This post was originally published on EMBL-EBI News.

Tags: Bioinformatics, Birney, EMBL-EBI, Governance, press release

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