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EMBO and Poland


Members of the Polish EMBO community presented their research at the BIO 2014 Congress in Warsaw


Credit: Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology


Poland joined the EMBC – the intergovernmental funding body of EMBO – in 1999. A few years later the very first Polish EMBO Member, Maciej Żylicz, encouraged the creation of the EMBO Installation Grants – a scheme to bring talented scientists to countries experiencing an exodus of scientific talent. Since its inception, 13 researchers have been granted extra money and support to establish independent research groups in Poland. The scheme is important for Poland as the country has struggled with both funding shortages and loss of researchers over the last decades. Since then, Poland has taken a number of measures, including the founding of the Polish Science Foundation (FNP) and the National Science Centre (NCN), to provide research grants for their scientists.


A recent international life science conference in Warsaw gave scientists working in Poland an opportunity to present their latest research and recent developments. The BIO 2014 Congress was the first joint meeting of the largest Polish societies in the area of life sciences. It took place on the University of Warsaw campus from 9-12 September. The session “EMBO and Poland” was an important part of the four-day conference. Organized by EMBO Council Member Leszek Kaczmarek, the session included more than a dozen lectures by Members, present and former Young Investigators and Installation Grantees – a forum revealing the fruitful dialogue between EMBO and Poland that has continually grown over the last fifteen years.


The 2013 Installation Grantee Joanna Sułkowska from the University of Warsaw spoke about knots in proteins. This relatively new field – knots in proteins were not discovered until 1994 – is still understudied. “Knots are conserved across life, from bacteria to humans. They are doing something very important,” said the biophysicist. The major challenge of working with knotted proteins experimentally is to distinguish between knotted and unknotted topology, yet this can be solved theoretically. The current goal is to understand the function of knots in proteins. Almost all knotted globular proteins discovered so far are enzymes responsible for metabolic processes. Some forms may play a role in infectious diseases – an angle that Sułkowska and colleagues are actively exploring now.


Tomasz Wilanowski – a 2011 Installation Grantee – gave a well-received talk on the new roles of the Grainyhead-like (GRHL) family of transcription factors in cancer. He set the foundation for his research during his stay at the Australian National University and later the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia before coming back to Poland. His goal is to optimize cancer therapies on the basis of GRHL patterns in tumours. “We have very many anti-cancer drugs. The issue is which one works in a particular patient in a particular tumour.”


Leszek Kaczmarek, current head of the EMBO Installation Grant Committee, gave a talk entitled Molecular biology of mind. Maciej Zylicz spoke about Chaperoning the guardian. Lessons from tumours.


Concluding the two-day session, EMBO Installation Grant Programme Manager Gerlind Wallon gave an overview of EMBO activities in Poland. Since 2011, up to five EMBO | ESF Symposia funded by EMBO and the European Science Foundation have been held in Poland, each of them attracting around 600 scientists from all over the world. Yet these conferences are organized mainly by foreign researchers and not necessarily by Polish scientists. “We would like to encourage Polish scientists to run more conferences in Poland,” stated Wallon. The same goes for fellowship applications where EMBO would like to see an increase in the numbers of applications from Poland for Long-Term and Short-Term Fellowships.


The dialogue will continue in 2015 when the annual Young Scientists Forum will come to Warsaw next May.






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Tilmann KießlingTilmann Kießling
Head, Communications
T. + 49 160 9019 3839