The passing of a pure spirit

Mumna Al Banchaabouchi 1968-2018

Last week we received the sad news of the passing of Mumna Al Banchaabouchi, Head of the Phenotyping Facility at EMBL Rome from 2004 to 2012. The news was painful and left us shaken. Mumna passed away at the untimely age of 49 after a battle with metastatic breast cancer. Her death leaves a dark hole in our hearts – especially for those of us who were not able to share her passage and know her thoughts in those last moments.

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At the Interface of Epigenetics and Neurobiology

EMBL Rome is changing. Last year we focussed our research on epigenetics and neurobiology, and as a consequence have recruited several new groups specialised in one or the other topic (e.g. see Boulard and Asari labs). Next up is a comprehensive site renovation to upgrade to a state-of-the-art campus, whilst further group leader recruitments are also in the pipeline. These are exciting times, and should remain so thanks to a new funding scheme that encourages research at the interface between epigenetics and neurobiology. This interdisciplinary funding bridges the two distinct themes at EMBL Rome and has already begun to foster cross-collaboration between groups. More broadly, the field of ‘neuroepigenetics’ is expanding rapidly and by leveraging the expertise of specialist labs on site, EMBL Rome could contribute key insights in the coming years.

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On my way to work

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to relocate to Italy after a long period of time spent in the UK. After two months of job hunting, an opportunity for working at the EMBL-Monterotondo, now EMBL-Rome, presented itself. After my interview, I was offered a position in the group of prof. Avner, a world leader in the field of X inactivation, the very same subject I have been working on for all my time in the UK.  Continue reading “On my way to work”

From the lab to the newsroom: telling how fake news is killing Italy’s olive trees

As an EMBL PhD student, I’ve given many talks, but the one I’ll give on 11 January at EMBL Rome is quite unusual: it won’t be about proteins or genes, but on how fake news is helping a bug kill millions of olive trees.

During my teenage years, I wanted to become a journalist and tell stories that mattered. But I also had a passion for science: observing natural phenomena, making hypotheses, and testing them seemed like great fun. Eventually, I decided to study biology in Rome and in 2011 I joined the De Renzis group at EMBL Heidelberg to find out how embryos get their shape.

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Eating synapses – seeing is believing

After more than five years of heroic work, EMBL Rome PhD student Laetitia Weinhard in the Gross Lab has finally completed her massive imaging study of microglia. Published last week in BioRxiv, the work uses correlated light and electron microscopy (CLEM) as well as time-lapse light sheet imaging to find out whether microglia eat synapse during brain development. Continue reading “Eating synapses – seeing is believing”

Escaping the lab on the Silk Road

This summer I managed to steal away from the lab to fulfill my childhood dream of driving from Europe to India. The idea that a culture so exotic and different than ours is nevertheless part of the same landmass and people like Alexander the Great, Ibn Battuta, and Marco Polo had managed to walk to Asia always held a deep fascination with me. Continue reading “Escaping the lab on the Silk Road”

How to see the world in a new light

Language reflects/affects the way we think and understand the world around us. I want to discuss this in my first ever EMBL Rome blog post- as it is a place unique for being hugely international, and because of a discussion over lunch that now became known (at least to me) as the “cherry discussion”. Continue reading “How to see the world in a new light”