The perks of being a science intern

There is no stage of a scientific career more glorious than being an intern. It’s a truly brilliant time – having the opportunity to engage in science with a fresh mind and unrestrained enthusiasm, unspoiled by the hardship of rejection or the torture of self-doubt. An internship is a relationship with no strings attached, where you are curious about the field, not quite ready to commit, but won’t mind having a fling.

Walking into a lab as an intern for the first time, I felt like Alexander the Great walking before his army. I felt the imaginary wind playing in my hair, excited to touch every piece of equipment and devour the knowledge thrown at me. Each of my supervisors seemed like Master Yoda from Star Wars, dedicated to educating me, just another student.

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On my way to EMBL Heidelberg

Today I woke up and followed my usual routine. I caught the train from Rome to Monterotondo, albeit a bit earlier than usual. But my final goal was not to arrive at the lab – it was to make it to EMBL Heidelberg by hopping on a few more trains. As an EMBL PhD student, I have the chance to travel around the world to attend courses and present my research. But this great opportunity for my scientific and personal development comes with a price for the environment. Have you ever wondered how much carbon dioxide (CO2) you’re putting in the air every time you take a plane? Each one-way plane trip to Heidelberg emits approximately 152 kg of CO2 and 640 g of nitrogen oxides. Flights produce greenhouse gases – mainly CO2 – from burning fuel. These contribute to global warming when released into the atmosphere. Planes release 2% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). By choosing to travel by train rather than plane today, I am emitting 74% less CO2 to the environment.

Graph obtained from EcoPassenger

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Horst Hamann captures EMBL Rome

Horst Hamann with one of his signature triptych images.

Horst Hamann recently visited EMBL Rome. Horst is an artist and photographer who has published a highly successful series of black and white art books, several of which use his signature vertical and triptych formats. He is passionate about football, and has published several photo books of famous footballers and stadiums. Fortunately, he is also passionate about Rome, and on the occasion of our 20th anniversary we invited him to capture the atmosphere at EMBL Rome in the form of still images and a short promotional film – all in black and white. The results are exciting and will be out shortly. Here is just a short teaser. 

Tara sails to Ostia

by Sara Formichetti

It took me a while to metabolise the last two days I spent at the Porto Turistico of Ostia, close to Rome (the city where I was born and raised). We – Italian-speaking volunteers from EMBL Rome – took part in an outreach event organised by the educational association Adamas Scienza and EMBL Rome on the occasion of the Italian stopover of the boat Tara. Why is this boat so special? Because it’s a private boat at the service of the international scientific community. The crew of researchers are studying the global oceanic ecosystem and the impacts of ongoing climate change and plastic pollution.

My role as a volunteer was to guide organised tours of the boat (which were fully booked a month in advance!) for the general public. I will explain some of the reasons why this experience was so motivating for me – both as a scientist and as a citizen of the world.

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EMBL vs. EMBO – What’s the difference?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear, so I thought there should be a place on the web to explain. The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) runs six research sites across Europe where it carries out fundamental research and service in molecular biology. The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) is an academy for the life sciences, provides funding, and publishes five scientific journals. In short, EMBL is a research institute, while EMBO is an academy, funder and publisher. Admittedly, the organizations are related. Both are international organizations funded by member states. Both have their headquarters on the same site in Heidelberg, Germany. Just to complicate things, the Director of EMBO has a lab at EMBL and is considered part of the Director’s Research Unit of EMBL, even though the organizations are administratively and legally separate.

In short, EMBL is a research institute, while EMBO is an academy, funder and publisher

The birth of a beer: EMB aLe

Mukkeller Brewery

The 20th anniversary celebration of EMBL Rome will be soon upon us and the preparations have already begun! On the 16th of May, Alex Young and I traveled with our collaborator for this project, Valentino Roccia, to the Italian brewery Mukkeller, located approximately 275 kilometers from Rome in Sant’Elpidio, just south of Ancona.  The next morning we started brewing at 8:00, finishing around 17:00. I designed this beer to be in the style of a Belgian Pale Ale: characterized as an easy-drinking, moderately malty, somewhat fruity, copper-colored Belgian ale. The bitterness should be moderate and complementary to the malt and fruitiness. Using a traditional Belgian yeast adds a bit of spiciness which we blended with some freshly ground coriander. I chose to add some lemon peel to accent the citrusy fruitiness from the citra hops we used. The beer will be around 6.5% alcohol.  In summary, a full flavored and interesting beer, but well balanced – good for a hot Roman summer day!

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EMBL Rome featured on Italian television program Leonardo


Phil Avner speaking to Leonardo

EMBL Rome was recently featured on the nightly prime-time Italian science television program Leonardo. Head of Unit Phil Avner and Group Leaders Cornelius Gross and Jamie Hackett were interviewed about the mission of the Epigenetics & Neurobiology Unit and EMBL’s role in supporting research and scientific training in Europe (see link starting at minute 6:18).

Turning peer review upside down

We recently hosted Mark Patterson, Executive Director of eLife, as part of the Science & Society Program at EMBL Rome. In case you’re not familiar with eLife, it’s a journal supported by four major Life Science research funding bodies: the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Wellcome, the Max-Planck Society, and the Wallenberg Foundation, with a mission to explore a more responsible selective peer review system. It’s been a surprising success. Although eLife follows DORA guidelines and formally asked not to be listed by Thompson Reuters, the ascribed Impact Factor is already 7.9. It is widely regarded as a top journal in the Life Sciences on par with the Nature specialty series.

Mark Patterson is Executive Director of eLife

As promised, eLife has been experimenting, and the highlight of Mark’s talk were the results of a recent trial in which they turned peer review upside down (see this paper from Bodo Stern and Erin O’Shea for the origins of the trial). For a limited time, manuscripts sent to eLife were accepted BEFORE being sent out for review. Sounds crazy – I know. No need to respond to the reviews if you don’t like them – your paper is already accepted! The hitch, however…

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EMBL Rome 20th Anniversary – Name that Beer Contest!

EMBL Rome is celebrating its first 20 years on 8 July 2019. As part of the celebration, I am brewing a large batch of beer in collaboration with Valentino at Pork’N’Roll, a Roman brewpub. We will be brewing this beer at the award winning Italian brewery, Mukkeller. The beer will be served at the anniversary party July 8 and hopefully you will be taking some home as well. It’s a Belgian Pale Ale featuring light spiciness and a twist of lemon for freshness on a hot summer day. How can you be part of this? You can help name the beer! The contest is open to current staff or anyone who previously worked at EMBL Rome. To participate send an email with your name, when you worked at EMBL Rome, and your suggested beer name. Keep in mind that the name needs to fit nicely on a bottle label.

—- Entries are due by 17:00 on May 10 —-

The following week all staff and participants will be asked to vote for their favorite entry. What’s in it for the winner? 1) Your name featured on the EMBL Rome 20th Anniversary Beer label (pretty cool!), 2) special prize to be determined (might be way more cool?). Get your entries in now!

Stunning science: Neurons that control defence

By Irene Ayuso Jimeno

This video shows neurons (in green) that control instinctive behaviours such as defence. They are located in the periaqueductal grey or PAG: an area in the midbrain with an important role in behavioural responses to stressors like threats or pain.

Credit: Irene Ayuso Jimeno (Gross group) / EMBL

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