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EMBL strengthens links with Estonia

EMBL and the University of Tartu have signed a memorandum of understanding to foster scientific collaboration in the life sciences

Logos of University of Tartu and EMBL with text: “memorandum of understanding”. Illustrations of microorganisms in the background.
Memorandum of understanding between EMBL and the University of Tartu, Estonia

Since June 2019, Estonia has been a prospect member state of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has now been signed between EMBL and the University of Tartu, a leading centre of research and training. The MoU aims to strengthen cooperation between EMBL and the life science research community in Estonia, building on the very successful links in the context of the prospect membership.

This MoU also formalises previous exchanges and research collaborations between the two institutions. In February 2021, EMBL and the Estonian Research Council organised a joint workshop in which many Estonian researchers were actively involved, including participants and speakers from the University of Tartu. On this occasion, EMBL Director General Edith Heard presented the next EMBL Programme, Molecules to Ecosystems, which has the aim of understanding life in its natural context. EMBL’s scientific plans for the next five years (2022–2026) is the first pan-European molecular biology programme for environmental and human health and has collaboration across disciplines and sectors at its core.

“Confronted with global challenges and urgent societal and environmental needs, fostering cooperation and integrating European life science have become essential endeavours. Estonia has been a very engaged prospect member of EMBL since 2019, and I view the signing of the MoU with the University of Tartu as a catalyst for collaboration between the two organisations,” says Edith Heard. “The MoU stands as a firm commitment to enhancing cutting-edge scientific research, knowledge sharing, and training, especially in the context of the new EMBL Programme. This will benefit Estonia’s life science landscape as we prepare for the country’s accession to EMBL as a full member state.”

During the workshop in February, EMBL Deputy Director General Ewan Birney highlighted the work of EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) in human genetics and personalised medicine. Other talks by EMBL Heads of Faculty touched upon bioinformatics training opportunities and some of the themes in the new EMBL Programme. Possibilities for joint collaboration were also discussed, particularly on several of the programme’s new transversal themes, such as Human Ecosystems, Planetary Biology, Microbial Ecosystems, and Data Science.

“Estonia has shown great success in attracting talent, so we really look forward to collaborating with all those excellent researchers. I’m thrilled to see what discoveries come from this exciting new alliance,” says Ewan Birney.

This formalised collaboration between EMBL and the University of Tartu is already helping to forge stronger links between EMBL and the science landscape in Estonia. “Estonian researchers have had individual contacts with EMBL, but through the MoU we are now committed to advance the joint undertakings at more systematic and strategic levels to help to boost the career of young Estonian talent, further the development of joint scientific infrastructures and increase the overall volume of interactions and activities both in experimental biology as well as biological data management and analysis,” says Jaak Vilo, one of the EMBL Council delegates from Estonia and current Head of the Institute of Computer Science at the University of Tartu.

Toivo Maimets, Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Tartu and former president of the European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) of which Estonia has been a member since 2006, sees the MoU between the University of Tartu and EMBL as the next important step to carry on the rapid developments of Estonian science. “Tighter collaboration between EMBL and our university will accelerate our full membership in EMBL and bring even more possibilities to gain from these top-level international professional networks,” says Maimets.


The European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) is an intergovernmental organisation that provides a framework for European cooperation in the field of molecular biology and closely-related research areas.


Tags: collaboration, estonia, mou

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