COPENHAGEN--Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, breathed a sigh of relief last week after the lab's governing council announced a 25% budget increase for the next 5 years. The boost eases months of uncertainty over how the lab would comply with an order to pay employees back salary. It also provides a measure of stability to its renowned but embattled European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Hinxton, U.K.
Concerns about the center's financial future came to a head last year when a court ruling forced EMBL to pay back salary to dozens of employees. The decision prompted fears that the lab might have to make deep cuts in research or even shut down (Science, 5 November 1999, p. 1058). Compounding those woes, the EBI has struggled to pull in enough funding under European Union guidelines that tend to be more generous to investigator-initiated projects than to research infrastructure.
Better times may be ahead now that EMBL's governing council has approved a spending increase of $10 million a year, raising the lab's budget to nearly $50 million in 2001. Some $6 million a year--60% of EMBL's budget increase--will go to EBI, covering 40% of its costs. The budget boost also will allow EMBL to establish a full-fledged center for mouse biology at its outstation in Monterotondo, Italy.
Long a center of basic research, EMBL is trying to make money by marketing its findings. Enthusiastically endorsing this new direction, the council of 16 member states approved the establishment of an externally managed venture-capital fund and the construction of a 6600-square-meter facility in Heidelberg that will serve as an incubator for start-ups from EMBL and member states. "EMBL has not made the best possible use of technology transfer in the past," says council chair Peter Gruss, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen. Director-general Fotis Kafatos insists that EMBL's "academic culture will not be negatively impacted" by EMBL teaming up with industrial partners.