European Molecular Biology Organisation/Laboratory (EMBO/EMBL)

Abstract

Two European organisations exist for promoting molecular biology. EMBO is a ‘federation’ of universities and national research centres. EMBL today comprises five well‐equipped ‘central’ laboratories. These complementary organisations were institutional responses to different conceptions of how best to maintain the strength of molecular biology in Europe and halt the ‘brain drain’ of talented researchers to the United States. The federal model prevailed in the early 1960s as many molecular biologists feared that a central laboratory would be established at the expense of national facilities that were being built all over Europe. The central laboratory gained traction in the 1970s thanks in part to the expansion of the European Economic Community to include the United Kingdom.

Key Concepts:

  • Europe has two institutions devoted to promoting molecular biology at the regional level.

  • This is a residue of history: there were strong disagreements inside the community over the best institutional form needed to advance the field in the early 1960s.

  • A federal model competed with a centralised laboratory ‘modeled on CERN’ and it was agreed to stagger the two in time.

  • The determination to strengthen national capabilities is always in dynamic tension with the push to establish a major European research facility.

  • The demand for costly equipment is a necessary but not sufficient condition for establishing regional research facilities.

Keywords: brain drain; CERN; double helix; Kendrew; Nobel Prize; Volkswagen foundation

References

Anon (1966) The European Molecular Biology Organization, EMBO. Geneva: EMBO.

Anon (1969) The EMBO Question Debated. Nature 224(5218): 406–407.

Anon (1989) European Molecular Biology Organization, 25th Anniversary 1964–1989. Heidelberg: EMBO.

de Chadarevian S (2002) Designs for Life. Molecular Biology After World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jacob F (2000) ‘EMBO and EMBL: Proud Achievements of European Scientists’. www.embl‐heidelberg.de/ExternalInfo/public_relations/Introducion.html

Kendrew JC (1968) EMBO and the idea of a European Laboratory. Nature 218(5144): 840–842.

Krige J (2002) The birth of EMBO and the difficult road to EMBL. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 33: 547–564.

Krige J (2006) American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Philipson L (1989) The European Molecular Biology Laboratory. An international collaborative effort. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 29: S90–S95.

Tooze J (1989) The role of European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) in European Molecular Biology. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 29: S38–S46.

Further Reading

Morange M (1997) EMBO and EMBL. In: Krige J and Guzzetti L (eds) History of European Scientific and Technological Cooperation, Firenze, 9–11 November 1995, pp. 77–92. Luxembourg: European Communities.

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Krige, John(Jun 2013) European Molecular Biology Organisation/Laboratory (EMBO/EMBL). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0024935]