Life began at 40; recruiting a node to transform medicine; and bioinformatics in the Senate.

Bulletins, EMBL Australia

Posted on behalf of Nadia Rosenthal, Scientific Head, EMBL Australia

When EMBL began 40 years ago in 1974, scientists were still working out how to fertilise human eggs in the lab and then implant them, and the first DNA sequencing methods were trickling out only a few base pairs per year.

Now, we’re delving deeper than ever before into the molecular processes underlying developmental biology, and you can have your personal genome sequenced commercially for under $1000. How far we’ve come in 40 years.

At EMBL Australia, we’re continuing this journey of discovery—I’m pleased to announce that we’re partnering with the University of New South Wales in Sydney to set up a new node of EMBL Australia—the UNSW Centre in Single Molecule Science.

The Centre’s goal will be to develop novel conceptual and experimental approaches for challenging problems in biology and medicine by linking molecular processes to functional outcomes.

Soon, we’ll be seeking the future research leaders to head the research teams at the Centre. Please read on for more information from EMBL Australia on these positions and other news.

Congratulations to Peter Currie and his colleagues at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research for discovering what he calls,“the Brownlow medalists of stem cells”. Their work has been released today in Nature.

We are looking forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming International Conference on Systems Biology, sponsored by EMBL Australia, in Melbourne from 14-18 September.
Best wishes,

Professor Nadia Rosenthal
Scientific Head, EMBL Australia

Please note that all replies to this newsletter go to If you wish to email me directly, my address is

In this month’s newsletter:

A new research centre to transform medicine

We’re delighted announce that we are partnering with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to set up a new EMBL Australia node at UNSW’s Lowy Cancer Research Centre.

The new node, the UNSW Centre in Single Molecule Science, will focus on transforming medicine by providing a molecular perspective on complex biological systems and processes, encompassing biophysics, biochemistry and cell biology as well as nanotechnology and nanofabrication.

The Centre will form part of UNSW’s Single Molecule Science initiative, which is underpinned by the new imaging and analysis technologies being developed by Professor Katharina Gaus, group leader at the Centre for Vascular Research at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre and Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging.

“The cross-disciplinary environment at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre will provide state-of-the-art laboratory space and access to platform technologies for the new EMBL Australia groups,” says UNSW’s Vice President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Les Field.

“UNSW’s strong culture of research collaboration and excellence fits well with the vision and culture of both EMBL Australia and EMBL internationally.”

In the coming months we’ll be opening recruitment for two new EMBL Australia group leader positions at the Centre.

The EMBL model provides group leaders with five years of funding with the option of extending for a further four years.

“Through this Centre, UNSW will join SAHMRI and Monash University in giving outstanding early-career scientists recruited from around the world the opportunity to focus on their research programs here in Australia without funding worries,” says Nadia Rosenthal, EMBL Australia’s Scientific Head.

Recruitment is likely to commence in late 2014 or early 2015.

Keep an eye out for these positions on the EMBL Australia website, in editions of this newsletter, and on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Can BRAEMBL help handle your data?

Showcasing the data from Australia’s life science projects to the world has become a lot easier thanks to the data integration team at the Bioinformatics Resource Australia EMBL (BRAEMBL).

The newly created team has been helping Australian scientists with the fiddly, and often burdensome, task of submitting their biomolecular data to EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) data bank in the UK—one of a handful of centres worldwide that collect, share and make available bioinformatics data.

One of the first groups to utilise the team’s services has been Dr Scott Beatson’s group at the University of Queensland.

Scott and his team have a passion for deadly bugs, and are studying the evolution and mobility of genes encoding virulence factors, which are widely conserved amongst bacterial pathogens.

They’re comparing the genomes of important human pathogens, including Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus  and Streptococcus species, Legionella pneumophila and Acinetobacter baumannii, that have been sampled in local clinical settings.

BRAEMBL’s data integration team is helping the group handle the large volumes of raw data generated by their genetic sequencing programs, as well as assisting with data analysis. And the team has set up processes—templates and a batch submission pipeline— to make the task of uploading to the bioinformatics data bank quick and smooth.

Integrating the Beatson’s data into the global database will allow further analysis by the group and other research teams around the world.

To date, BRAEMBL’s data integration team has successfully chaperoned to the EBI data on 314 strains of bacteria (including assembled data) from 10 studies. Enquiries about other species and from other groups are starting to stream in.

For more information on how BRAEMBL can assist with your research, visit the BRAEMBL website.

In other news

Discovery of stem cell ‘buddy system’ brings us closer to a cure for blood disorders

Congratulations to our Victorian node head, Peter Currie, on his paper in Naturetoday.

He and his colleagues at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research are unravelling the mechanics of stem cell generation to help find a cure for a range of blood disorders and immune diseases.
Their paper has identified, for the first time, the mechanisms that trigger hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) production. HSCs are found in bone marrow and in umbilical cord blood, and are critically important for replenishing the body’s supply of blood cells.

Using high-resolution microscopy, the team filmed HSCs forming inside the embryo of the zebrafish, capturing the formation process in detail.

When playing back the films, Peter said they noticed that HSCs required a “buddy” cell to help them form. These “buddies”, known as endotome cells, have stem cell-inducing properties.

“Endotome cells act like a comfy sofa for pre-HSCs to snuggle into, helping them progress to become fully fledged stem cells,” says Peter. “Not only did we identify some of the cells and signals required for HSC formation, we also pinpointed the genes required for endotome formation in the first place.”

Read more

Their work appeared today in The AustralianThe Guardian, and The Herald Sun.

Happy 40th Birthday, EMBL

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory turned 40 this year and celebrations at its five campuses are in full swing with events ranging from conferences and meetings to festive gatherings, public lectures and outreach activities.

EMBL Australia Scientific Director, and former Head of EMBL’s Monterotondo Italian outstation, Nadia Rosenthal was recently in Heidelberg for the 40th anniversary reunion, which brought alumni together for a two-day program of presentations, lab reunions and networking.

 “The scientific and historic presentations were first-class, with spectacular celebrations and a chance for alumni to catch up and reminisce, and to meet the current crop of EMBL Group Leaders. It was a really joyful time,” said Nadia.

The celebrations culminate on 12 September with a gala event in Heidelberg featuring Nobel Prize–winners Professors Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus. On 13 September, a public preview of photographer Horst Hamann’s exhibition ‘DNA | portraits’ will ring in the finale of the 40th anniversary celebrations.

The exhibition, featuring portraits of past and present EMBL staff, will run until the end of the year in Heidelberg.

EMBL’s five campuses are in Heidelberg and Hamburg in Germany, Grenoble in France, Monterotondo in Italy and Hinxton, near Cambridge in the UK.

For more information about all of the celebrations, visit the EMBL website.

Watch Winter School talks online

If you didn’t get along to the Winter School in Mathematical and Computational Biology in July, or if you’d like to re-visit some of your favourite talks, you can now view many of the presentations on both the Winter School’s website and the Australian Bioinformatics Network’s Slideshare.

“This year’s Winter School continued the tradition of outstanding presenters delivering practical insights from the frontiers of bioinformatics” says Dr David Lovell, Director of the Australian Bioinformatics Network.
“Because bioinformatics changes so fast, it’s crucial for us to hear from researchers working at that frontier. I want to acknowledge the contributions that the presenters and the organisers make in running the Winter School. Along with its sister school, BioInfoSummer, the Winter School is vital to sustaining and growing Australia’s bioinformatics capability.”

Giving bioinformatics the Senate floor

It’s not every day you get to talk to the Australian Senate about bioinformatics.

So when the opportunity came up to respond to the Senate Inquiry into Australian Innovation, Australian bioinformaticians grabbed it with a collective 224 hands.

Australian Bioinformatics Network members developed a submission to emphasise the critical role that bioinformatics plays in the health, agriculture and environment sectors.

“It goes beyond platitudes about the importance of bioinformatics to an understanding of what is really shaping Australia’s bioinformatics capability,” says David Lovell, head of the Australian Bioinformatics Network. “Career stability is front and centre for many of us and we hope the Senate will understand that.”

Besides the submission itself, the very fact that the Australian bioinformatics community could develop something that had support from 112 bioinformaticians and quantitative bioscientists says a lot about the current state of bioinformatics in Australia.

“I am delighted and excited to be part of a network of bioinformaticians and bioscientists that can pull together this kind of statement,” says David. “It shows that people care about delivering benefits from science, and it shows that the Australian bioinformatics community is becoming more cohesive and more coordinated than ever before. My thanks go out to everyone who contributed or supported the submission.”

View the submission, and how it was developed

Australian Bioinformatics Conference: call for poster abstracts, awards and travel bursaries for students

The inaugural Australian Bioinformatics Conference (ABiC 2014) will be held in Melbourne on 11–12 October 2014.

It’s a meeting by bioinformaticians, for bioinformaticians, which focuses on methods, tools and community-building, rather than biological outcomes alone. And it’s open to anyone at any stage of their career who is using bioinformatics or wants to learn to use it more effectively.

Speakers at the conference include:

  • Professor Terry Speed, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne
  • Dr Ana Congresa Cegarra, Principe Felipe Research Centre, Spain
  • Associate Professor Titus Brown, Michigan State University, USA
  • Dr Sylvain Forét, Australian National University, Canberra

Abstract submissions for oral presentations closed on 13 August, however applications for poster presentations are open until 1 October. Some travel awards are available for Australian students coming from outside Victoria who submit an abstract.

Prizes are up for grabs for the best student and early-career researcher presentations (both oral and poster).

Head to the conference website for registration and further information.

The conference is supported by this year’s ABN Connections Grant Scheme—a program that funds ideas that connect Australian bioinformaticians with each other and with the latest knowledge and tools in their field—and by The Victorian Life Science Computation Initiative (VLSCI), The Australian Genome Research Facility (AGRF), The Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI) and The Victorian Bioinformatics Consortium (VBC).

Events coming up

If you have events to add to the EMBL Australia events calendar, drop us a note at with the details and a link for more information.

AusBioTech VIC BioBeers and Bubbles
14/08/2014 Insieme Restaurant Bar, South Yarra

15th International Conference on Systems Biology
14/09/2014–18/09/2014 Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Australian Bioinformatics Conference (ABiC 2014)
11/10/2014–12/10/2014 Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne

Towards precision medicine: Phenotyping human diseases in mice: The 16th Frank and Bobbie Fenner Conference
20/10/2014–21/10/2014 The John Curtin School of Medical Research, The Australian National University, Canberra

For a full list of upcoming events, head to the EMBL Australia events page.

About EMBL Australia

EMBL – the European Molecular Biology Laboratory – is Europe’s flagship for the life sciences. The Australian government joined EMBL as an Associate Member in 2008.

EMBL Australia is an unincorporated joint venture between members of the Group of Eight universities and the CSIRO, supported by the Australian government.

Read more about EMBL Australia