14 Dec 2012

The next generation of European researchers in the life sciences

In mid-November, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) announced this year’s EMBO Young Investigators. 22 researchers from twelve countries were selected from over 160 applicants; I talked to three of them.

The EMBO Young Investigator Programme (YIP) supports talented researchers at the start of their independent careers by making their research stand out in the scientific community. Being an EMBO Young Investigator helps the young group leaders establish a reputation as outstanding scientists and ensure additional funding for their research. This year's successful applicants receive 15,000 euros annually for three years, in addition to conference grants for themselves and their team members. Additionally, they will get access to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) core facilities and funds for networking opportunities such as student exchanges or visits to other members’ institutes. The 22 newly selected young scientists join a vibrant network of nearly 300 current and former young investigators.

Melina Schuh
Melina Schuh from the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) of the Medical Research Council in the UK is one of the eight women selected this year. She chose a rather unusual career path as she decided to apply directly for an independent position after her PhD. “I was delighted when I was accepted as a group leader at the LMB, which is one of the birthplaces of modern molecular biology and has attracted 14 Nobel prizes,” Schuh says. During her PhD at the EMBL, Schuh established methods to examine the entire process of meiotic maturation in live mouse oocytes, which she now uses to investigate the causes of aneuploidy in mammalian oocytes. “Because errors during oocyte maturation lead to pregnancy loss, birth defects and infertility, this work does not only provide important insights into fundamental cellular mechanisms, but also has important implications for human health,” she explains. Schuh believes the EMBO YIP is an “excellent networking platform that unites the next generation of European group leaders in the life sciences”.

Bruno Reversade
Bruno Reversade set up his lab in 2008 at the A*STAR Institute of Medical Biology, and is the first scientist based in Singapore to become an EMBO Young Investigator. Reversade investigates hereditary human diseases such as accelerated ageing and some types of cancer, as well as unusual embryological events like identical twinning. “We start off with patients, find the causative gene and examine the pathogenesis of the disease using animal models and patient’s cells in culture,” Reversade says. He hopes that unlocking the molecular mechanisms of rare genetic disorders will advance our understanding of human embryonic development and lead to new treatments, for instance using genetic therapy. “The genetic diseases we study might be rare themselves but the phenotypes they cause are common: for instance, accelerated ageing provides insights into normal ageing.” Reversade plans to strengthen collaborations between the EMBO and the Singaporean A*STAR institutes and to organise the EMBO Young Investigators conference in Singapore in 2015.

Evi Soutoglou
In addition to offering annual meetings, where former and new young investigators have the opportunity to network, the EMBO YIP proposes to pair young investigators with EMBO Members as their mentors. Evi Soutoglou from the Institute of Genetics, Molecular and Cellular Biology in France believes that these networking opportunities with more experienced scientists will be extremely helpful. “I wish I had this opportunity 3 years ago when I was establishing my group,” she says. “This might have helped me to avoid some mistakes.” Soutoglou is interested in understanding how DNA repair is organised in time and in space inside the nucleus of eukaryotic cells. She has developed a unique system to induce DNA breaks and follow the fate of the damaged DNA in living cells. She hopes that becoming an EMBO Young Investigator will increase the visibility of her research and attract “very good people” to join her team.

Image credits: EMBO, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, A*STAR Institute of Medical Biology, Institute of Genetics, Molecular and Cellular Biology.

This article was published in Lab Times on 14-12-2012. You can read it here

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