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In January 2010, the developmental biologist Prof. Dr. Maria Leptin, internationally known for her work on the signalling pathways that regulate tissue differentiation and morphology during Drosophila embryogenesis, was appointed director of the EMBO, one of the most prestigious science organisations in Europe.
Among the profiles published on AcademiaNet is that of Maria Leptin, who has been director of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) in Heidelberg since January 2010, thus achieving exactly what AcademiaNet set out to do: secure leadership positions for women in the most renowned science organisations in Europe. Leptin, who previously held a professorship at the Institute of Genetics at the University of Cologne, explained in an interview with the Cologne university journal that she was very surprised by the offer, but also delighted to be appointed the new director of the EMBO.
Leptin can feel justifiably proud to be the first woman director of the EMBO, succeeding the previous EMBO directors Raymond Appleyard, John Tooze, Frank Gannon and Hermann Bujard. Maria Leptin is very well aware of the difficulties of combining family obligations as a wife and mother of two sons with a high-powered scientific career. One of her numerous functions that she very much enjoys is her work on the board of directors of the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation, an organisation that supports talented young women with children in their endeavour to juggle family obligations with the work required of an independent researcher. The foundation's aim is to help prevent science losing excellent talent, and it provides financial support to pay for home help and childcare so that young female scientists can concentrate on their work.
After a research stay as visiting scientist at the University of California in San Francisco where she worked on gastrulation, Leptin joined the Drosophila researcher and later Nobel Laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen to head a research group between 1989 and 1994. During this period, her son Bruno was born in 1991 followed by another son Jakob in 1993.
With the support of Professor Nüsslein-Volhard, she successfully fought for the establishment of a day-care facility for children, which came into being in March 1992. She was appointed professor at the Institute of Genetics of the University of Cologne in 1994 where she remained until appointed EMBO director, with breaks for research stays at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre in Hinxton, England.
As the new EMBO director, Maria Leptin is unable to spend a great deal of time in the laboratory. Her work as director of the European Molecular Biology Organisation, which is financially backed by the EMBO's funding body, the European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) with delegates from the 27 member states, requires her to travel a lot. The EMBO funds a broad range of workshops, training courses and scholarship programmes for young researchers ("EMBO postdoctoral fellows", "young investigators") in all EU countries. The EMBO publications ("EMBO Journal", "EMBO reports" and "Molecular Systems Biology" which is a joint venture with the journal "Nature") are among the leading international journals of molecular biology. "However, the basis of EMBO's international reputation and its most valuable assets are its members," said Maria Leptin speaking at a recent meeting at which the new 2010 EMBO members were announced.
Since it was established, more than 1,400 leading molecular biologists from Europe and around 90 associated members from non-European countries, including 47 Nobel Laureates, have been awarded lifetime membership of EMBO. More than half of the EMBO's members contribute to EMBO activities by serving on advisory editorial boards of the organisation's scientific journals, on boards in charge of funding programmes and awards, mentoring young researchers, acting as teachers and trainers for workshops and practical courses. Through their involvement in the organisation's activities, the knowledge and expertise they bring as well as their experience and reputation, the chosen researchers help develop new research initiatives and shape the direction of the life sciences in Europe. The most important task of the new EMBO director is the support and coordination of this network of top international researchers.
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