EMBL-EBI's 20th anniversary

A year to remember

EMBL-EBI turns 20

On 12 June 2014, EMBL-EBI celebrated its 20th anniversary with a day of inspiring talks and fun activities on the Genome Campus. Held on the lawn behind Hinxton Hall, the event brought together staff and alumni to connect, look back on a remarkable two decades of growth and discovery and share ideas about the future of bioinformatics. The event was one of many celebrating EMBL's 40th anniversary and EMBO's 50 years of scientific excellence.

We were very pleased to welcome over 50 EMBL-EBI alumni to the event, and warmly encourage our former staff to keep in touch by signing up to the EMBL Alumni Programme.

Video and photos

Film: 20 years of bioinformaticsPhoto album - placeholder

Team photos - placeholderRobin Ince, science comedian


Time Event
09.00 Arrival

EMBL-EBI Director Janet Thornton hosts a series of short talks:

  • EMBL Director General Iain Mattaj, on the founding of EMBL
  • EMBL-EBI Associate Director, Graham Cameron, on the early days of the institute
  • EMBL-EBI Research Director, Michael Ashburner on bringing bioinformatics to the Genome Campus
  • EMBL-EBI Head of Administration Mark Green, on the rapid growth of the institute
  • EMBL-EBI Joint Associate Directors Rolf Apweiler and Ewan Birney, on EMBL-EBI today.
11.00 Break for refreshments

EMBL-EBI Associate Director Ewan Birney chairs a panel discussion on "blue skies" thinking:

  • Nicolas Le Novere, Research Group Leader alumnus: 2003-2012
  • Sarah Teichmann, Research Group Leader
  • Ian Bird, Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid Project Leader, CERN
  • Chris Sander, Research Group Leader alumnus: 1995-2002.
12.30 BBQ lunch followed by a group photo on Hinxton Hall lawn

Panel discussion about collaborative discovery: Robin Ince, Chair

  • Nicky Mulder, Principal Investigator in Computational Biology, University of Capetown, South Africa
  • Anne Ferguson-Smith, Head, Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge
  • Niklas Blomberg, Director, ELIXIR
  • Jim Crilly, Executive Vice President, Unilever Research.
15.00 Short break
15.10 Award-winning comedian, actor and writer Robin Ince, guest of the EMBL-EBI Staff Association.

Closing remarks by EMBL-EBI Director Janet Thornton, followed by celebratory drinks and cake cutting.

17.00 Bus departures start from 17.00.




 Robin Ince at the Edinburgh Science Festival

Robin Ince, an award-winning English stand-up comedian, actor and writer, is perhaps best known for co-presenting The Infinite Monkey Cage on BBC radio with Professor Brian Cox. He has also collaborated with Simon Singh, Ricky Gervais, Ben Goldacre and Richard Dawkins. Robin hosts The Incomplete Map of the Cosmic Genome, which provides access to exclusive interviews with the world’s leading scientists and comedians, writers, performers and others who interact with science in their work. He also writes for The Telegraph on culture and film and has an honorary Doctor of Science from the Royal Holloway, University of London. You can also watch Robin's talk at TEDx Dublin, "The mind is a chaos of delight".

Iain Mattaj  Iain Mattaj, Director General, EMBL - Professor Iain Mattaj  joined EMBL as a Group Leader at the Heidelberg laboratory in 1985, became Coordinator of the Gene Expression Unit in 1990 and was promoted to the position of Scientific Director in 1999. Iain was appointed Director General of EMBL in May 2005. He obtained his PhD from the University of Leeds, England, and carried out postdoctoral research at the Friedrich Miescher Institute, Switzerland, then at the Biocentre, University of Basel, Switzerland. He has been elected President of the RNA Society and received the prestigious Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine in 2001. Iain has received the FEBS Anniversary Prize, the Caledonian Research Foundation–Royal Society of Edinburgh Award, the Italian Chemical Society Award, and the Feldberg Foundation Prize. He is Honorary Professor of the Bio-Sciences Faculty of the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, and has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Dundee. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (London), Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Member of Academia Europaea, Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, Member of the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher (Leopoldina). He was  appointed Trustee of the Darwin Trust, Curator of the Lautenschläger Research Prize, Member of the Life Sciences Search Committee for the Körber Prize, and Member of the Search Committee for the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine. He has been chair of EIROforum, the Scientific Advisory Board of the DKFZ-ZMBH Alliance, and the Senior Awards Advisory Board of the Wellcome Trust. He is a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and was Executive Editor of The EMBO Journal from 1990 to 2004.
 Janet Thornton, EMBL-EBI Janet Thornton, Director, EMBL-EBI - Professor Dame Janet Thornton has been Director of EMBL-EBI since 2001, and played a key role in the development of ELIXIR. Her research group focuses on understanding protein structure, function and evolution using computational approaches. After graduating in Physics from Nottingham University in 1967, she studied for her PhD in Biophysics at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London. She worked in molecular biophysics in Oxford until 1978, when she returned to a Fellowship at Birckbeck College, University of London. In 1990 she was appointed Professor and Director of the Biomolecular Structure and Modelling Unit at University College London and was appointed to the Bernal Chair in the Crystallography Department at Birckbeck College. Professor Thornton is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Member of EMBO, an Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge and Honorary Professor, University of Cambridge. She is also a Foreign Associate Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In 2012 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the British Empire.
 Graham Cameron, EMBL-EBI Graham Cameron joined EMBL in 1982 in the launch phase of the EMBL Data Library. In 1986 he took over the leadership of that project, overseeing substantial growth and the expansion into the provision of protein sequence data alongside the DNA data (a  collaboration with what is now the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics). Graham developed the concept for EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and was responsible for the final EBI proposal, which was accepted by EMBL Council in 1992. He oversaw the selection process that resulted in locating EMBL-EBI in the UK, managed its launch through 1993 to 1994 and oversaw the relocation of the Data Library activities. He shared the EMBL-EBI Directorship with Michael Ashburner from 1998 to 2001, and had strategic oversight of EMBL-EBI services until April 2012. He coordinated many major EU-funded projects, which raised substantial funding for the institute and its European partners. He joined EMBL Australia at the University of Queensland in 2012 to help develop bioinformatics services, which will incorporate and expand on the Australia's EBI Mirror.
 Michael Ashburner, EMBL-EBI Michael Ashburner, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Genetics at the University of Cambridge, was the joint head of EMBL-EBI from 1994 to 2001. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences Tripos (Genetics) in 1964, his PhD from the Department of Genetics in 1968, and was awarded a Doctor of Science in 1978, all from Cambridge. Dr Ashburner's research interests were in two different areas: genome organization and evolution inDrosophila and the development of structured controlled vocabularies (ontologies) for use in the context of biological databases. He was an early pioneer in the application of computers to biology and was an active participant in setting up FlyBase and in establising Open Biomedical Ontologies to allow machine-searchable annotation of biological information, particularly the Gene Ontology and ChEBI. He was instrumental in establishing EMBL-EBI and securing its location in the UK.
 Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith Anne Ferguson-Smith is Professor of Genetics and Head of the Department of Genetics at the University of Cambridge. She is an authority on the epigenetic control of genome function in health and disease and is recognised for her work on parental-origin effects and epigenetic mechanisms starting with the identification of one of the first imprinted genes and the discovery that the process was regulated by DNA methylation. Her current research focuses on three themes: stem cells and epigenetic programming in development, environmental modulation of epigenetic states, and genotype-epigenotype-phenotype interactions including though her involvement with large collaborative projects such as EU FP7 BLUEPRINT Reference Epigenome project. Anne is an elected member of EMBO and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.
 Sarah Teichmann, EMBL-EBI Sarah Teichmann is a research group leader at EMBL-EBI and senior group leader at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. She is also a Principal Research Associate in the Dept of Physics/Cavendish Laboratory, and a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. She is a leader in systems biology, which aims to explain how individual molecules within a cell co-operate to produce the cell’s overall behaviour. After reading the Natural Science Tripos at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, Sarah received her PhD in computational biology from the UK’s Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC-LMB) in Cyrus Chothia's group. She moved to University College London as a Beit Memorial Fellow in Janet Thornton's group, where her work shed light on how proteins are formed from combinations of basic modules, and how they form networks of interactions in metabolic pathways. She returned to the LMB to set up her own group in 2001, where she focused on transcription factors. Sarah is a co-founder of the Single Cell Genomics Centre, a joint EMBL-EBI/Sanger initiative to clarify how gene activity is controlled throughout single cells of different types. Her work has been recognized by the Biochemical Society's Colworth Medal, the Lister Prize, the Royal Society Crick Lecture and membership of the European Molecular Biology Organisation. 
 Nicolas LeNovere, Babraham Institute Nicolas Le Novère leads a computational biology group at the Babraham Institute, which focuses on cellular signalling and stem cells. He studied molecular biology and biochemistry at École Normale Supérieure, evolution at University Paris XI, and biophysics and pharmacology at Paris VI. He earned his PhD in the structure and function of neuronal nicotinic receptors with Jean-Pierre Changeux at the Pasteur Institute and conducted postdoctoral work in modelling bacterial chemotaxis with Dennis Bray at the University of Cambridge, where he was part of the new field of systems biology. At EMBL-EBI from from 2003-2011, he developed tools, resources including the BioModels Database, standards such as SBML and SBGN and ontologies for computational systems biology and modelled mechanisms of neuronal transmission. He is a visiting researcher at EMBL-EBI, and directeur de rechercheat the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).
Jim Crilly, Unilever Jim Crilly is Senior Vice President of the Strategic Science Group, the most upstream part of R&D at Unilever. This group is responsible for to bringing in new science and emerging technology, specifically in modern biology, smart materials, High Performance Computing and Manufacturing future to enable breakthrough innovation over the long term. He interacts closely with Unilever’s partners in the global academic and science network and, on behalf of the RDLT, is the sponsor for Digital R&D and for R&D communications. He has been at Unilever for 30 years, during which he has held positions across the R&D function, from basic research, development, operating company board and category roles for R&D. Jim has worked in both the UK and Italy, and led the programme and team behind some big technology developments in Unilever's Ice Cream category. Leading the company's first-ever sustainability initiative on global capture fisheries, he helped set up the Marine Stewardship Council and later set up a programme to convert ice cream cabinets (and the industry) to greener working refrigerants. Most recently, his team has pioneered behaviour change psychology for health, hygiene and environmental care in support of USLP goals. Jim is a member of the UK Chief Scientist Food Research Panel, a visiting Professor at the University of Nottingham in School of Bioscience and an associate member of the European Industrial Research Management Association.
Niklas Blomberg, ELIXIR  Niklas Blomberg, Founding Director, ELIXIR - Dr Niklas Blomberg is Founding Director of ELIXIR, the European infrastructure for bioinformatics and life-science data. Dr Blomberg holds a BSc in Chemistry from Göteborg University in Sweden and a PhD from EMBL, Heidelberg, where he worked on structural bioinformatics and protein NMR spectroscopy in the group of Michael Nilges. In 1999 Dr Blomberg joined AstraZeneca’s Structural Chemistry Lab in Mölndal, Sweden. As Associate Director of Computational Chemistry he led the global cheminformatics group, located in UK and Sweden, for 6 years. In 2011-2013, he built a new, cross-disciplinary team for Computational Chemistry and Computational Biology to support Respiratory, Inflammation and Autoimmune research from target nomination to clinical candidate nomination. He is an industry advisor in national eScience initiatives, was until recently chair of BILS, the Swedish ELIXIR Node, and has co-chaired the IMI Open PHACTS initiative.
Nicola Mulder, UCT  Nicola Mulder is Associate Professor and head of the Computational Biology Group at the University of Cape Town (UCT), located in the Health Science Faculty of the Institute for Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine. After her PhD, she spent 8.5 years at the European Bioinformatics Institute as a Team Leader responsible for the InterPro and Gene Ontology Annotation projects. At UCT she works on bioinformatics of microbial pathogens, human genetics and infectious diseases, and manages a bioinformatics services team. Her research includes analysis of functional interaction networks in M. tuberculosis and other mycobacteria, host pathogen interactions, and visualization and analysis tools for high-throughput biology. She also works with local researchers on a number of projects studying African population diversity and the genetic basis of disease, which includes development of new methods for studying admixed populations. Prof Mulder coordinates H3ABioNet, a large, pan-African Bioinformatics Network for Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa), which aims to build capacity in Africa for genomics research. She is also President of the African Society for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology and chairs a Committee in the Global Organisation for Bioinformatics Learning Education and Training (GOBLET).
 Ewan Birney Ewan Birney, Joint Associate Director and Senior Scientist at EMBL-EBI - Dr Birney is one of the founders of the Ensembl genome browser. Together with Dr Rolf Apweiler, he has strategic responsibility and oversight for bioinformatics services at EMBL-EBI. Dr 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. Ewan’s main areas of research include functional genomics, assembly algorithms, statistical methods to analyse genomic information (in particular information associated with individual differences), the storage of digital information using DNA and compression of sequence information. He completed his PhD at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute with Richard Durbin, and worked in the laboratories of leading scientists Adrian Krainer, Toby Gibson and Iain Campbell. Ewan has received a number of prestigious awards including 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.
Rolf Apweiler Rolf Apweiler, Joint Associate Director and Senior Scientist at EMBL-EBI - Dr Apweiler is Joint Associate Director of EMBL-EBI, and together with Ewan Birney has strategic oversight of all EMBL-EBI services. Prior to taking on this position he led protein resources, including the team responsible for EMBL-EBI's contribution to the UniProt Consortium. Dr Apweiler has made a major contribution to methods for the automatic annotation of proteins, making it possible to add relevant information to proteome sets for entire organisms. Dr Apweiler has spearheaded the development of standards for proteomics data, and his teams have maintained major collections of protein identifications from proteomics experiments (PRIDE) and molecular interactions (IntAct). Rolf received his PhD from the University of Heidelberg in 1994, and has been at EMBL since 1987. His major contribution to the field of proteomics was recognised by his election to President of the Human Proteomics Organisation, which he held in 2007 and 2008. Also, in 2012 he has been elected as a member of EMBO.
EMBL-EBI 20th anniversary

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Bioinformatics timeline

Blast from the past

EMBL-EBI 20th anniversary photo gallery

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EMBL Alumni Programme

What are we celebrating in 2014?

EMBL-EBI turns 20

The European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) began with the creation of the world's first nucleotide sequence database at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany in 1980. In 1992 EMBL decided to locate EMBL-EBI on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, alongside the major sequencing efforts of the Sanger Centre, and in September 1994 the new institute opened its doors. Since then, EMBL-EBI has played a major part in the bioinformatics revolution.

EMBL turns 40

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), EMBL-EBI's parent organisation, was founded in 1974, championed by physicist and molecular biologist Leo Szilárd and Nobel Prize winners James D. Watson and John C. Kendrew. Their idea was to create a CERN-like supranational research centre for the study of molecular biology, and they succeeded: an intergovernmental treaty establishing the Laboratory was ratified 40 years ago by nine European countries and Israel. Today EMBL counts 20 member states and one associate member state, and is considered to be Europe's flagship laboratory for basic research in molecular biology.

EMBO turns 50

The European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO), the organisation that took on the creation of EMBL as a central laboratory, turns 50 in 2014. EMBO is an organisation of more than 1500 leading researchers that promotes excellence in the life sciences, supporting talented researchers at all stages of their careers, stimulating the exchange of scientific information and helping to build a European research environment in which scientists can achieve their best work.