A look back at the year


International and Scientific Affairs

The CRG is continually fostering and implementing strategic alliances and projects to strengthen the international and interdisciplinary perspectives of the institute, with the support of the International and Scientific Affairs (ISA) office.

Institutional collaborations

Facilitating translational research

To facilitate the translation of CRG discoveries in fundamental biology to applied research in health and medicine, the institute has established several partnerships with hospitals and translational research groups in the Barcelona area.

A few years ago, the CRG began actively collaborating with the Vall d´Hebron Institute of Research (VHIR). This year, the two institutes co-organised the second edition of the course on exome sequencing for medical doctors and researchers. Additionally, in collaboration with the IRB and the IDIBAPS, they are also planning a new pilot collaborative research training programme for medical doctors, called PhD4MD, to be launched in 2015.

The CRG and the Sant Joan de Deu research foundation organised a joint meeting in December to explore synergies and possible new joint projects. Some potential collaborations were identified that will be followed-up in 2015.

An important initiative for fostering translational research at the CRG has been the launch of seed funding for emergent translational research projects of CRG group leaders for their collaboration with clinical researchers and/or health-related industries. So far, four proposals have been funded; these are coordinated by Isabelle Vernos in collaboration with EUGIN, Stephan Ossowski in collaboration with VHIR, Mara Dierssen in collaboration with Starlab, and Toni Gabaldon in collaboration with Hospital Universitari Parc Taulí de Sabadell. There is a broad range of topics, including the application of next generation sequencing technologies, clinical practice, and new experimental tools to improve in vitro fertilisation.

The CRG has also started preparing a joint transversal project on the lung microbiome with clinical groups from the Barcelona Respiratory Network (BRN). With the support of ISA, Toni Gabaldon and the CRG core facilities on bioinformatics and genomics are participating in the project.

Additionally, ISA chairs the EU-LIFE working group (WG) on translational research. This WG organised the first EU-LIFE scientific meeting on the “Biology of Cancer: bridging basic and translational research” (CRG, 12-13 May, 2014), which was attended by basic science researchers and clinicians from both the public and private sectors.

Exchanging knowledge and good practice, and integrating activities with European institutions

EU-LIFE, the European Life Sciences Institutes for Excellence, is a key initiative chaired by the CRG to promote excellence in research, to strengthen integration among European research institutes in life sciences, and to develop and share best practice in research, research management, and training.

During 2014, the EU-LIFE working groups prepared several publications on science policy, best practice in research management (e.g., mentoring programmes for junior researchers, and computing storage strategies), and funding opportunities. In addition, the EU-LIFE website was updated to include information about all the research groups as well as all the technological platforms available at the 13 institutes. The EU-LIFE directors met twice during the year, once in Barcelona and once in Oeiras, to discuss the future challenges and long-term objectives of the alliance. On these occasions, key representatives from the European Commission, as well as international funding agencies (e.g., from Argentina and Brazil), were invited to discuss potential synergies and joint initiatives with EU-LIFE. Finally, EU-LIFE hired a new project manager, Marta Agostinho, who has been coordinating its activities since October 2014.

Fostering collaboration and mobility

As part of the collaboration agreement with the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación Productiva of Argentina, two main initiatives were organised:

  • A joint call for mobility between CRG and Argentinian groups. Four joint collaborative projects to exchange personnel were selected and will start running in 2015;
  • Joint course and workshop on “personalised medicine” in Buenos Aires. More than 40 students participated in the course, and more than 100 people attended the symposium. http://workshoponpersonalizedmedicine.wordpress.com/

As part of the collaboration with Wits University and Novartis, during the first six months of the year, CRG laboratories hosted three PhD students from Wits, working on themes of common interest. During the summer, we launched a second call to host three further students in 2015, and to reach other universities in South Africa. The programme is now called the CRG-Novartis-Africa mobility programme. Three new junior researchers were selected (from Wits, the University of Cape Town (UCT), and the University of Western Cape (UWC)), who will join the CRG labs in January 2015.

ISA and the CRG outreach programme also promoted a collaboration agreement with the MIT-Spain programme. In January 2013, the MIT Global Teaching Lab was organised for the first time in Spain. Six students taught different subjects at selected Catalan schools and also gave short talks at the CRG. Next year, the collaboration will be led and supported by Fundació Catalunya la Pedrera.

To follow-up the collaboration with Academia Sinica (Taiwan) that was launched in 2012, in October we organised a successful joint mini-symposium in Barcelona, together with the UPF, the BSC, and a delegation of seven scientists from Academia Sinica.

Coordinated and strategic projects

With the launch of the new European Commission H2020 programme for research and innovation, the ISA team actively collaborated with CRG group leaders to prepare and submit several new collaborative proposals based on public-private partnerships across Europe. The CRG also participated as a member of the Spanish co-location centre in the InnoLIFE initiative, a new knowledge and innovation community (KIC) on healthy living and active ageing that was awarded by the European Institute of Technology at the end of the year.

The CRG is leading several Spanish and large European collaborative projects and is also a key partner in some large European infrastructure projects. These projects, as well as being useful for networking, contribute to advancing knowledge in diverse fields of biology and biomedical research, ranging from systems biology, cancer, epigenetics, cellular trafficking, and rare diseases to medical genomics. The 2014 portfolio of projects managed by ISA includes:

  • Coordination of 6 European projects: SysteMTb (Serrano), Cure-FXS (Dierssen), BioPreDyn (Jaeger), 4DCellFate (Di Croce), Swarm-Organ (Sharpe), FLiACT (Louis).
  • Coordination of 2 Spanish projects: RNAREG (Valcarcel), COAT (Malhotra).
  • Participation in 3 European infrastructure projects: EuroBioImaging (Zimmermann, Sharpe); ISBE on Systems Biology (Sharpe); ELIXIR on bioinformatics (Guigó, Navarro).


    • The SysteMTb project focuses on the systems biology of M. tuberculosis. The project finished in 2014 but combined efforts on a common experiment are continuing with the aim of preparing a joint publication.
    • BioPreDyn organised and taught a highly successful week-long EMBL-EBI workshop entitled “BioPreDyn: The systems biology modelling cycle – building mechanistic dynamical models”. Numerous software tools for modelling have been developed within the project, as can be seen on the BioPreDyn.eu website.
    • The 4DCellFate project has already published 43 articles in 3 years, with an average impact factor of 14.6. B. Lehner and V. Raker co-organised a 4DCellFate-IMPCC workshop on “Integrative and Computational Biology” (26-27 March), which had an audience of 250 and featured 15 top-level speakers from Europe and the USA. Importantly, they reached their goal of a gender-balanced symposium with 7 women and 8 men speakers. 4DCellFate also organised a very interesting exhibition on “The art of stem cells” featuring the work of Ana Cid, a Barcelona-based Spanish artist, who has recently been greatly inspired by images produced by biological research (http://www.acid-factory.com/).
    • The Swarm-Organ project focuses on systems containing autonomous but simple agents (robots, cells), that collectively organise themselves into complex spatial arrangements (organs). In collaboration with the communication unit, Swarm-Organ helped prepare the “Activa’t amb la Cèl·lula!” outreach activity for schoolchildren.

From left to right: Joaquim Calbó, Michela Bertero, Olaf Kostbahn and Sonja Reiland

  • The mission of the ISBE preparatory phase is to assemble a Europe-wide, distributed infrastructure providing the systems biology research community with access to state-of-the-art facilities. The CRG leads the work package on community building, and in August 2013 launched the European Systems Biology Community Website (http://community.isbe.eu/). Continuing with the community-building activities, and in the context of preparing the ISBE business plan, the CRG launched a systems biology audit service in Europe, which will help us understand the research landscape and also increase ISBE visibility in European countries.
  • In 2014, together with the PRBB Intervals programme, FliACT organised a course on scientific integrity: “Good science, honest science”. The instructors Michele Garfinkel, science policy manager for EMBO, and Alison North, director of the bioimaging centre at Rockefeller University, presented the topics “Responsible Conduct of Research: From Policy to Practice”, and “Acquiring and presenting reliable scientific imaging data – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Downright Dishonest”, including discussions with the participants.