Back 2021.03.17

Lithuania enjoys membership of European elite club in molecular biology

Lithuania has been steadily working towards becoming a life sciences research destination for scientists from all across the globe. As part of this effort, a partnership institute of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) is opening up in the Life Sciences Centre of Vilnius University to focus primarily on the advancement in genetic editing technologies. The Ministry of Education and Science has allocated for this purpose six million euros from EU investment funds. It is yet another step towards Lithuania’s ambitious goal to become, by 2030, a life science trendsetter in the region generating 5% of GDP.

The fact of establishing this centre in Lithuania shows the highest recognition of Lithuania’s scientists, particularly Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys and his team and their excellence in world-class research. Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys was awarded for his discovery of gene molecular scissors the Warren Alpert Prize by Harvard University and the prestigious Kavli Prize in 2018, won together with the winners of 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He is also a laureate of the 2017 Novozymes Prize of the Danish Novo Nordisk Fund.

According to Director of the Life Sciences Centre of Vilnius University Prof. Gintaras Valinčius, the Centre will build on Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys’ achievements and expertise in genetic editing and take it further with the best scientists from all across the world. In the nearest future, six life sciences research projects will be launched.  ‘We will work to make the Life Sciences Centre known in the world for its contribution to the betterment of humanity in terms of life-changing discoveries, and help Lithuania to become a covet destination for scientific pathways, research, scientific exchange and project development’, says Prof. Gintaras Valinčius.

The partnership institute of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in the Life Sciences Centre of Vilnius University will seek to attract top talents in gene editing from all across the world. 25 researchers from the world acclaimed universities have applied to become heads of gene editing project research groups in the new institute. Researchers from Harvard, Oxford, California and other flagship universities have expressed their wish to play a part in this centre. According to Prof. Gintaras Valinčius, five-year contracts will be signed with the candidates selected by an international commission.

‘We will not seek to attract international scientists to stay here for long. What we wish is to have a dynamic organisation with fast circulation of researchers, which would guarantee the exchange of fresh ideas and promote international uptake of Lithuania-made research’, says Prof. Gintaras Valinčius. The EMBL partnership institute will undoubtedly add to the visibility of Lithuania’s life sciences research. ‘It will also increase, as we assume, our success rate as regards projects under the research and innovation framework programme Horizon Europe’, says the Director of the Life Sciences Centre.

The EMBL partnership institute will also take care of the needs of students. Efforts will be made to reinforce the GMC study potential by involving students in research carried out by the EMBL partnership institute. International EMBL programmes and events will be open to all students, doctoral students and researchers, and we will work towards sharing and implementing best practices in organising EMBL research and academic activities.

It is the seventh international EMBL partnership institution in the world. Apart from the partnership institute of the Life Sciences Centre of Vilnius University, this network includes such European molecular biology research centres as the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, Hubrecht Partnership for Stem Cell and Tissue Biology in Utrecht, the Australia Partnership Laboratory and others. The EMBL currently has 27 members. They have access to all EMBL services and programmes and they can vote on operational matters of the organisation.

Founded in 1974 by US physicist and molecular biologist Leo Szilárd with Nobel Laureates James D. Watson and John C. Kendrew, the EMBL was hoped to serve as a CERN-like supranational research centre to redress the balance in the strongly US-dominated field of molecular biology, and in 1978-1987, it operated as a start-up for creative ideas.