Meeting in Brussels on Monday, Director General Edith Heard held discussions with representatives from the Belgian scientific policy and research community EMBL has held a joint workshop with the Belgian Science Policy Office, BELSPO, underlining their long-standing collaboration and commitment to future cooperation.
Attending the event in person, Professor Heard said, “Events like this demonstrate the strength of EMBL’s partnership with Belgium, and the beneficial impact of our ongoing collaboration. EMBL’s future plans offer real opportunities for the Belgian science community, and it was fantastic to hear about the way that time spent working at EMBL boosted the careers of those now working at Belgian research organisations.”
Attendees were able to participate in sessions chaired by leading EMBL scientists, as well as alumni who are continuing their scientific careers within Belgian institutions, such as Ghent University, Université Libre de Bruxelles, and VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology.
Commenting on the event, Pierre Bruyere, the President of the Committee of Directors of BELSPO, said, “With this workshop, BELSPO aimed to stimulate the Belgian scientific community to make use of the excellent services offered by EMBL and to join forces with EMBL’s research groups for the benefit of interdisciplinary and innovative scientific endeavours. Such collaborations offer solutions for different challenges to which we are – and will be – confronted, as was clearly demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Sessions ranged from presentations on cutting-edge infection biology research and its role in combatting global outbreaks, to work on uncovering how bacterial cells organise their molecular content in space and time in relation to their lifecycles, to discussions about the great potential of organoids. Attendees were also able to learn about recent research in the field of planetary biology – including ocean sampling projects – which forms part of the study of life in its natural context with the aim of understanding organism interactions at the molecular level.
Researchers working in Belgium were also able to hear more about how EMBL can benefit their projects. Yehudi Bloch, from Ghent University, gave a testimonial about his use of the synchrotrons at EMBL Hamburg. He explained the great added value that came from working with the Sample Preparation and Characterisation facility there, as well as the large number collaborations that have been made possible thanks to their expertise.
The programme concluded with two sessions which looked at the opportunities that EMBL offers the Belgian research community. One speaker was Sibylle Vonesch, a group leader at VIB-KU Leuven Centre for Microbiology. Vonesch spent her postdoc at EMBL, working on developing CRISPR-Cas9-based technologies for precision engineering and regulation of genomes. Extolling the positive impact that her time at the Heidelberg site has had on her research, she said, “EMBL is the ideal place to further your scientific career, with its international atmosphere and focus on excellent science. I really valued the collaborative spirit and sense of community both within and between research units, which meant it was easy to start interdisciplinary collaborations and build connections for life.”
The meeting was co-organised by BELSPO and Savvas Savvides, along with Nassos Typas and EMBL’s International Relations team. Speaking after the event, Savvides – scientific delegate of Belgium to EMBL’s Council – reflected, “Our joint workshop has shown that EMBL’s role in European bioscience goes far beyond the breaking and redefinition of scientific barriers. EMBL provides thematic and technological fora that unify scientists not only within Europe but all over the world. EMBL’s new scientific program is testament to this”.
Belgium has been a member of EMBL since 1990. Further information about the way BELSPO works to maximise and strengthen research within Belgium and internationally can be found on their website.