Nov 242014

After 40 years, the first complete picture of a key flu virus machine

The complete structure allows researchers to understand how the polymerase uses host cell RNA (red) to kick-start the production of viral messenger RNA. Credit: EMBL/P.Riedinger

The complete structure allows researchers to understand how the polymerase uses host cell RNA (red) to kick-start the production of viral messenger RNA. Credit: EMBL/P.Riedinger

In a nutshell:

  • First complete structure of one of the flu virus’ key machines: its polymerase
  • Could prove instrumental in designing new drugs

If you planned to sabotage a factory, a recon trip through the premises would probably be much more useful than just peeping in at the windows. Scientists looking to understand – and potentially thwart – the influenza virus have now gone from a similar window-based view to the full factory tour, thanks to the first complete structure of one of the flu virus’ key machines. The structure, obtained by scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Grenoble, France, allows researchers to finally understand how the machine works as a whole. Published in two papers in Nature, the work could prove instrumental in designing new drugs to treat serious flu infections and combat flu pandemics.

Continue reading »

Nov 202014

picture credit: Philipp Gebhardt, ELLSELLS Guest Blog by Kanchan Anand

It is fascinating to learn that a tortoise can easily live over 200 years, while humans rarely cross 100 years. Dogs usually reach the age of 12-15, mice can turn three years of age and mayflies only live a single day. But irrespective of the individual life span, the common denominator remains that eventually all organisms age with time. Ageing affects our tissues and organs like heart, nerves, muscles, bones, and even the brain is no exception. Dementia is one of the age-related brain disorders and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one of the most common contributing factors. The year 2010 marked hundred years since the name Alzheimer was coined for AD and, according to some reports (Alzheimer’s disease International,, there are already over 36 million cases worldwide – a number which is predicted to triple by the end of 2050.  This raises several important questions for scientists, namely how to understand (a) the process of ageing itself and (b) the fundamental basis of age-related disorders such as AD.

While the exact biological cause of ageing still remains to be discovered, the accompanying side effects are being increasingly recognized and researched for. Continue reading »

Nov 132014
Elsa Montagnon

Elsa Montagnon – Spacecraft Operations Manager at ESOC

Mission RosettaThis week space enthusiasts are curiously following the European Space Agency’s manoeuvres to place a small lander on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – more than 400 million kilometers away from Earth. The Rosetta spacecraft was launched 10 years ago and has been travelling this huge distance through the solar system to finally reach the comet this week. The Philae lander module – with the size of a washing machine – has left its mothership Rosetta and landed on the comet yesterday. It is now trying to analyse the comet’s composition and will send pictures from the comet’s surface.

During the SET-Routes project (EC FP6 funded), which the European Learning Laboratory for the Life Sciences (ELLS) at EMBL has coordinated, we produced a lecture for students and teachers called “Let’s go to a comet – Mission Rosetta”. Our presenter at the time was Elsa Montagnon, an engineer and Spacecraft Operations Manager  at the European Space Agency’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.  Elsa, who works in space exploration, has been called the ‘comet hunter’ because from the mission control room at ESOC her team has remotely steered the Rosetta spacecraft over millions of kilometers to reach the comet. Have a look at the SET-Routes lecture and find out how it felt for Elsa when “…the spacecraft was on the launch pad, ready to get started…”. The lecture can be accessed via on-demand video here.

EIL2014_title1It certainly is a challenge to go out, above our heads, and see what is out there! But similarly, there are still a lot of things to discover within the most intriguing organ of ourselves: our brain. If you are interested in joining us on a journey into the human brain, we cordially invite you to participate in the next EMBL Insight Lecture “Why do we do what we do? Exploring the neural basis of emotions” which will be live-streamed on 5 December 2014. EMBL Group Leader Dr. Cornelius Gross will provide an introduction to the study of brain and behaviour and will then explore the challenges scientists face when trying to understand how complex behaviour is determined.

We would like to invite you to join us for what promises to be an exciting event on the neural basis of emotions. REGISTER HERE!

Nov 032014
ELLS LearningLAB “Structural biology – shining light onto the fabric of life”

Apply now  for ELLS LearningLAB at EMBL Grenoble – 9-10 February 2015! The European Learning Laboratory for the Life Sciences (ELLS), in collaboration with La Casemate Grenoble, invites European secondary school science teachers to apply for the ELLS LearningLAB “Structural biology – shining light onto the fabric of life” at EMBL Grenoble (France). The LearningLAB will provide more
Oct 202014
From worm muscle to spinal discs

 An evolutionary surprise Thoughts of the family tree may not be uppermost in the mind of a person suffering from a slipped disc, but those spinal discs provide a window into our evolutionary past. They are remnants of the first vertebrate skeleton, whose origins now appear to be older than had been assumed. Scientists at more
Oct 132014
Registration now open for EMBL Insight Lecture live streaming

Have you ever wondered why we do what we do?…biologically speaking, of course. On Friday 5th December 2014 Cornelius Gross, EMBL group leader, will attempt to answer this question from a neuroscientific point of view in this year’s EMBL Insight Lecture entitled “Why do we do what we do? Exploring the neural basis of emotions”. more
Oct 102014
log2EMBL: 26 biology teachers explored virtual research institute

26 German secondary school biology teachers gathered at EMBL Heidelberg last week to attend the LearningLAB “Log in to Science – Forschern auf der Spur: Forschungssimulation am Beispiel der Eisenspeicherkrankheit (Hämochromatose)” – a joint CPD course organised by ELLS, the out-of-school lab ExploHeidelberg, and the Regierungspräsidium Karlsruhe (regional administrative council).
Over two days, teachers had the opportunity to explore the virtual research institute log2EMBL which has been developed by teachers, students and ELLS staff as part of the Robert Bosch Stiftung-funded iNEXT (interactive Network for Experimental Training) project. iNEXT has been a 3-year project to develop and disseminate state-of-the-art resources for teaching molecular biology at the advanced level in German schools (
The virtual research institute log2EMBL is a platform to offer inquiry-based research projects for students. more
Sep 162014
Public film event in Heidelberg

Cell fate: Journeys to specialisation Have you ever wondered how cells differentiate into specific cell types? How do our blood, skin and muscle cells get their distinct abilities and shapes? And how are these processes controlled on a molecular and cellular level? Join us on Sunday 12th October 2014 at 18:00 at the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut more
Sep 082014
Scientists for a day

For just one day, PhD students could no longer claim the title of ‘youngest researchers’ at EMBL. That honour went to the 13 students aged 11 to 17 who conducted a full-day experiment in the EMBL training labs as part of the Tschira-Jugendakademie at the end of August this year. Initially created as a one-time more
Sep 032014
Will we ever win the race against all the viruses?

As a fresh outbreak of Ebola takes its toll in West Africa, I ask myself why we know a lot about viruses and yet do not have a vaccine or a drug against a lot of them. A little over two hundred years ago, in 1796, Edward Jenner developed the first antiviral vaccine to treat smallpox virus and since then scientists have developed vaccines for various viral diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis, influenza and rotavirus. However, we still have no vaccines against the common cold and many other, often deadly, viral infections such as Lassa, Marburg, SARS and H1N1. This seems perplexing at first, but let’s take a closer look into why handling a virus is not just challenging but actually quite tricky. more
Aug 292014
Fascinated by proteins? Join the next ELLS Webinar!

Have you ever wondered what proteins look like on the molecular level? Are you curious what methods scientists use to find out? If you are keen to get an insight into the fascinating world of protein X-ray crystallography, the next ELLS webinar by EMBL visiting scientist Kanchan Anand will present the ideal opportunity! Don’t worry, more
Aug 052014
Ask EMBL… anything!

Have you ever wondered… How do you pronounce “Helicobacter pylori”? How does genetic sequencing work? How do I become the director general of a top international research facility? As part of our 40th anniversary celebration, we’re asking you to ask EMBL…anything! Submit your question via Facebook, Twitter @EMBLorg, Google+ or YouTube, tagged #EMBL40Q, or via the form more
Jul 312014
International Summer Science School Heidelberg 2014 at EMBL

We immensely enjoyed interacting with the participants of the International Summer Science School Heidelberg 2014. It has been an impressing group of international students who have joined us for the practical workshop at EMBL. We have done hands-on experiments in the training labs of the EMBL Advanced Training Center, explored the biology of the model system Zebrafish in the EMBL more
Jul 302014
International Summer Science School Heidelberg 2014

In a few minutes we will be starting the International Summer Science School Heidelberg 2014 at EMBL. A group of international students will visit EMBL and during the course we will do exciting wet-lab experiments together, visit EMBL research facilities and perform a bioinformatics treasure hunt to find out more about our “molecule of the more
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