EMBL Barcelona: Five years down the road

EMBL’s site by the sea completed its fifth year of operations. We look back at some key milestones and achievements since 2017

Image of a group of people behind a large, black table with two cakes on it to celebrate EMBL Barcelona’s fifth anniversary
EMBL Barcelona colleagues celebrate the 5th anniversary of the site in October 2022. Credit: EMBL

In 2017, the first seed of what would become EMBL Barcelona was planted in the PRBB campus in Spain. Today, this seed has grown into a tree with a solid trunk sustained by more than 70 researchers and many branches supported by wide-reaching collaborations. Beginning with its earliest conceptualisation in 2005, to the celebration of its fifth anniversary in October 2022, EMBL Barcelona’s story has been one of triumph, innovation, and growth.

We present below a short voyage through the first five years of EMBL Barcelona, through challenges and breakthroughs, through early mornings and late evenings, through great science and greater camaraderie. And throughout this process, every member of the site has felt and contributed to fun and excitement of creating a new EMBL family.


April: EMBL and the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs sign EMBL Barcelona’s host site agreement to establish a new site within the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB).

May: James Sharpe is appointed Head of EMBL Barcelona.

September: Amaranta Amador Bernal, Head of Administration and Senior Legal Advisor, together with a small administration team, joins EMBL Barcelona.

October: EMBL Barcelona officially starts its operations. James Sharpe and his research group, previously in the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), continue to work in their old lab spaces in the PRBB for a while. The administration team also starts its initial work within the PRBB. Both teams later relocate to their current locations upon completion of refurbishments to accommodate EMBL Barcelona.

“It’s an amazing privilege to set-up a new EMBL Site from scratch. Truly, I didn’t imagine quite how many moving parts there would be to coordinate – from the lab layout to the equipment needed, budgetary planning, and administrative challenges, not to mention my main role: to define a unique scientific vision for a new research site! But working with so many wonderful and talented colleagues, both researchers and admin, has made it a joy.”

James Sharpe, Head of EMBL Barcelona


February: EMBL and the University Pompeu Fabra sign the Framework Agreement laying the foundation for hosting PhD students at EMBL Barcelona.

July: Refurbishments to PRBB’s 4th floor are completed and this becomes EMBL Barcelona’s new home.

Also in July, EMBL’s Summer Council Meeting is held in Barcelona.

October: An Inauguration Symposium for EMBL Barcelona takes place on 15 October, with keynote lecture by Don Ingber, Founding Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

In the same month, two new group leaders join: Miki Ebisuya and Vikas Trivedi.

 “When I first arrived in EMBL Barcelona, there was no lab in the unit’s space, as the Sharpe Group were still located in their previous lab at the CRG. Now EMBL Barcelona is full of people. I particularly like our open lab space design where our unit members naturally and constantly see each other irrespective of individual group affiliations. Thanks to these frequent interactions, we have many collaboration projects ongoing in the unit, and I am proud of that.”

Miki Ebisuya, Group Leader at EMBL Barcelona


June: James Sharpe is elected EMBO Member.

September: The Tara Ocean Foundation is one of EMBL’s key partners. As part of Tara’s Mission Microplastics, the schooner docks in Barcelona for four days. The same year, EMBL Barcelona joins Tara to promote science and interdisciplinarity.

October: Group leaders Maria Bernabeu and Kristina Haase join EMBL Barcelona.

Also in October, EMBL and IBEC sign a Framework Agreement to join forces and organise the EMBL-IBEC Winter Conference on a regular basis.

“It has been a privilege being entrusted with setting up the operational side of EMBL Barcelona from scratch, together with my team and with advice from colleagues from all EMBL sites and departments, fully implementing its status as intergovernmental organisation in Spain. The process of seeing it grow from a project to a fully operational site has been especially satisfying because of the strong community – I’d say family – feeling at the site, where everybody was happy to contribute to its successful set up.”

Amaranta Amador Bernal, Head of Administration and Senior Legal Advisor at EMBL Barcelona.


February: The first EMBL-IBEC Conference on Engineering Multicellular Systems is held.

May: EMBL Barcelona signs an agreement with the Barcelona Blood and Tissue Bank. Both Bernabeu and Haase Groups will receive blood samples to study how vascular dysfunction can lead to diseases like cerebral malaria or cancer.

September: Maria Bernabeu is awarded the ERC Starting Grant.

October: EMBL and CSIC sign a Framework Agreement to strengthen Spanish national research collaboration.

December: Miki Ebisuya is awarded the ERC Consolidator Grant.


April: Due to the pandemic, EMBL Barcelona sets up the Social Interaction Working Group. Colleagues from several groups organise online and in-person activities to promote social contact among site members.

June: EMBL Barcelona and the University of Barcelona sign a Traineeship Agreement to foster collaboration and offer internships to local students.

In the same month, EMBL Barcelona and IBEC jointly organise an online satellite session for the M-CELS workshop – Multi Cellular Engineered Living Systems. In this session, speakers from both EMBL and IBEC discuss the technical, ethical, and societal challenges of building M-CELS.

August – October: First EIPOD fellows start at EMBL Barcelona. Four new colleagues join the Bernabeu, Ebisuya, Haase, and Trivedi groups.


January: Kristina Haase is awarded the ERC Starting Grant.

May: The first EMBL-CSIC workshop takes places in Madrid.

July: Miki Ebisuya is elected EMBO Member.

October: The Barcelona Collaboratorium for Modelling and Predictive Biology is inaugurated. This project is led by EMBL Barcelona and the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG). It aims to be a new space for computational biology-related interactions, enabling researchers to collaborate, share ideas, and synergise across disciplines and scales.

In the same month, Group Leader Talya Dayton joins EMBL Barcelona.

December: Group Leader Alejandro Torres-Sánchez joins EMBL Barcelona.

Also in December, Vikas Trivedi is awarded the ERC Synergy Grant.

 “The PRBB has been the perfect place to host scientific meetings and bring together researchers from across the globe. We hosted the 2022 EMBO workshop Building networks: engineering in vascular biology and brought together scientists from tissue engineering and vascular biology communities. We aim to continue this series every two years in this beautiful setting and highlight the work of European researchers to the broader global community.”

Kristina Haase, Group Leader at EMBL Barcelona

EMBL Barcelona underwent its first unit review in 2022, which evaluated its scientific achievements over its first five years. Internal and external reviewers congratulated the site for an excellent start to its journey.

We look forward to continue flourishing in the coming years. Cheers!

Tags: barcelona, embl archive, history, international relations, spain


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