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Spain and EMBL launch beachfront systems bio hub


The European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s newest and southernmost outpost is sure to attract visitors and researchers alike. It’s got it all — impeccable institutional lineage, top researchers, a sizable government largesse, and a brand new home on the Catalan coast.

The systems biology research unit is co-administered by Heidelberg-based EMBL and Barcelona’s Center for Genomic Regulation, and funded with €12.7 million from Spain’s Ministry for Education and Science. “[By] joining forces with EMBL,” says CRG director Miguel Beato, “we will create a new center of excellence for systems biology in Barcelona.” Part of the plan hinges on adopting EMBL’s model of regular staff turnover to “ensure a continuous flow of ideas,” Beato says. Contracts for group leaders at the center run for only five years, with the possibility of renewal by an external scientific committee for an additional four years.

Luis Serrano, who most recently coordinated EMBL’s structural and computational biology unit in Heidelberg, is heading the systems biology research branch, which was officially launched in September. Serrano moved to the Barcelona site in early October, joining senior scientist James Sharpe, whose specialty is the systems-level analysis of development. The Catalonian team also includes group leaders Mark Isalan, an EMBL-Heidelberg alum working on gene network engineering, and Ben Lehner, most recently an RNAi researcher at the Sanger Institute.

The unit itself is based in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, an ambitious biotech infrastructure built through a partnership between the Catalan government, Barcelona’s city council, and the Pompeu Fabra University. The BBRP houses the new systems biology research unit, in addition to several biomedical research groups, including PFU’s Experimental and Health Sciences Department, the Municipal Institute of Medical Research, and the Regenerative Medicine Center of Barcelona. The BBRP’s main building, which is in the final stages of construction, boasts 55,000 square meters of space and overlooks the Barceloneta beach.

EMBL and CRG are ensuring that the unit’s research and administrative staff remain compact and nimble. Two more group leaders are currently being recruited, and the program has a cap of six. The unit provides leaders with funds for supporting one postdoc for five years, one grad student for four years, one technician, lab, and office support for up to seven people. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.

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