European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Identity area

Type of entity

Institutional body

Authorized form of name

European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Parallel form(s) of name

  • Laboratoire Européen de Biologie Moléculaire
  • Europäisches Laboratorium für Molekularbiologie

Standardized form(s) of name according to other rules

Other form(s) of name

  • EMBL

Identifiers for corporate bodies

Description area

Dates of existence



In the early-1960s, several European scientists shared a vision for a European research centre that would focus on molecular biology. This led to the creation of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 1964. EMBO’s primary objectives were (and remain): supporting research in the life sciences, and facilitating the exchange of scientific information.

As one way of meeting these goals, EMBO considered the creation of a central laboratory. A Laboratory Committee was set up to explore the options available and answer essential questions. Should this be a new laboratory or envisaged as a federation of laboratories across Europe? What would such a laboratory focus on and provide that national institutions could not? By the early-1970s, the concept of a laboratory that would carry out fundamental research in molecular biology, develop advanced instrumentation and deliver advanced training in the life sciences was agreed upon. In addition, it was decided that the laboratory would consist both of a main laboratory and specialist outstations. The site of Heidelberg for the main laboratory was agreed in 1971.

The multilateral “Agreement establishing the European Molecular Biology” (10 May 1973) was signed by 10 founding members (listed below), and came into force on 4 July 1974. This marks the birth of EMBL as a legal entity.

John Kendrew was appointed as EMBL’s first Director General.

In 1975, a formal agreement with the Deutsches Elektronensynchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, DE, was ratified, creating the first EMBL outstation. The following year, an agreement was signed with the Institut Laue–Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, FR, creating a second outstation.

In the meantime, the construction of the Heidelberg laboratory was underway. In 1978, EMBL staff moved from the temporary and dispersed facilities they had been occupying around the city of Heidelberg into the new buildings on Meyerhofstraße, next to the Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik (Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics).

In 1980, EMBL started developing a data library, which would centralise DNA sequences. This became the EMBL Data Library; the first release of the Nucleotide Sequence Data Library was in 1982.

In 1982, Lennart Philipson was appointed EMBL’s second Director General. During his tenure, Philipson expanded EMBL’s training activities: courses and conferences were developed, and a new lecture theatre was built. The training of doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows was also developed and formalised in partnership with universities across Europe.

In 1992, EMBL Council approved the establishment of a third outstation, which would focus on bioinformatics, the European Bioinforamtics Institute (EMBL-EBI).

In 1993, Fotis Kafatos was appointed as the third Director General of EMBL.

Throughout 1994, as well as celebrating EMBL’s twentieth birthday, the initial plans for the outstation at Monterotondo were prepared. This outstation would be a mouse research facility, working with the European Mouse Mutant Archive (EMMA).

By the end of the 1994, the EMBL Data Library / EMBL-EBI had relocated to Hinxton, GB, on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus. It was initially housed in temporary offices while new facilities were built (completed in 1995).

In 1997, the Monterotondo outstation began to welcome researchers. The facility was fully operational by 1999.

In 2005, Iain Mattaj was appointed EMBL's fourth Director General.

Since it was founded in 1974, EMBL’s membership has more than doubled. From the 10 original signatories (Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), the following states have joined: Finland (1984), Greece (1984), Norway (1985), Spain (1986), Belgium (1990), Portugal (1998), Ireland (2003), Iceland (2005), Croatia (2006), Luxembourg (2007), the Czech Republic (2014), Malta (2016), Hungary (2017) and Slovakia (2018).

Working beyond Europe, since 2003, the Associate Membership Scheme enables non-European states to benefit from EMBL’s programmes. Australia (since 2008) and Argentina (since 2014) are EMBL’s first two Associate Members States.

Furthermore, as a preliminary step towards membership, Prospect Membership enables members to become affiliated with EMBL with the view of becoming full members. Ad of 2018, Poland (since 2014) and Lithuania (since 2015) are prospect member states.


Heidelberg, DE
Hamburg, DE
Grenoble, FR
Hinxton, GB
Monterotondo, IT

Legal status

EMBL is an intergovernmental organization.

Functions, occupations and activities

Fundamental research
Scientific services
Technology transfer
Administrative and supporting services

Mandates/sources of authority

"Agreement establishing the European Molecular Biology Laboratory", Geneva, CH, 10 May 1973 (EIF 4 July 1974), United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 954, No. 13866 pp. 341-377. Available through:

Internal structures/genealogy

EMBL is governed by EMBL Council, which is composed of up to two delegates from each member state. EMBL Council appoints the Director General and oversees the scientific and financial programmes of the Laboratory. Within EMBL Council, the Finance Committee is composed of members of EMBL Council and oversees financial matters. To support the overseeing of the scientific programme, EMBL Council appoints a Scientific Advisory Committee that is made up of eminent scientists from relevant fields. These are not delegates of EMBL Council.

Assisting the Director General, the EMBL Directorate is composed of the Director, the Director International Relations and the Administrative Director.

EMBL is organised into Units, each led by a Head of Unit. In the past, Units have been called Divisions, and later Programmes. In 2015, there are 5 research units in Heidelberg (Cell Biology and Biophysics, Developmental Biology, Directors' Research, Genome Biology, and Structural and Computational Biology). Each of the 4 outstations is a unit, as are the Core Facilities.

EMBL reports its activities in two annual publications. The "EMBL Annual Report" provides an overview of activities across EMBL, and the "EMBL Research at a Glance" (previously "EMBL Research Reports") provides details of scientific research.

General context

Relationships area

Related entity

Course and Conference Office (1983/)

Identifier of related entity


Category of relationship


Type of relationship

Course and Conference Office

is the subordinate of

European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Dates of relationship

Description of relationship

Related entity

EMBL-EBI Training Programme (2007/)

Identifier of related entity


Category of relationship


Type of relationship

EMBL-EBI Training Programme

is the subordinate of

European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Dates of relationship

Description of relationship

Related function

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Control area

Authority record identifier


Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used



Level of detail

Dates of creation, revision and deletion

2015-10-14 (creation)
2018-02-06 (revision)




EMBL publications: "Annual Report" (1975-2014), "Research Report" (1976-2014) and "Research at a Glance" (2005-2015).

Maintenance notes

Authority record created by Anne-Flore Laloë

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