Iain Mattaj

Iain Mattaj

  • Director, Director's Office

From 2005 to 2018, he was Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), the European flagship laboratory for the life sciences, world-renowned for its outstanding research in molecular biology and for hosting a significant number of Nobel Prize winners over the last twenty years, including the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 for the cryo-EM.

Born in 1952 in St. Andrews, Scotland, after obtaining the undergraduate degree with honour in Biochemistry at the University of Edinburgh, Iain Mattaj got his PhD from the University of Leeds, UK. He carried out his postdoctoral research at the Friedrich Miescher Institute (CH) and then at the Biocentre, University of Basel. In 1985, Iain Mattaj joined EMBL as Group Leader at the Heidelberg Laboratory. In 1990, he became Coordinator of the Gene Expression Unit, later Scientific Director (1999) and finally he was appointed Director General in 2005.

His research over the years gave relevant contributions in the field of ribonucleoprotein (RNP) particles that function in the processing of messenger RNA precursors. The analyses of these RNPs covered different topics, including transcription of the RNA components, RNA-protein interactions, RNPs function in messenger RNA production and assembly of the RNPs from their component parts in vivo. Mattaj’s work led to numerous studies on RNA and proteins transport between the cell nucleus and cytoplasm. His group identified numerous factors and mechanisms involved in this important process. More recently, Mattaj demonstrated the critical role of the Ran GPTase enzyme in the regulation of mitotic events, including spindle assembly, nuclear pore complex formation and nuclear envelope assembly.

Thanks to these outstanding results, Iain Mattaj was elected President of the RNA Society and received many awards such as the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine in 2001, and this year the foreign association to NAS.

Mattaj’s Honours

1989 Elected member of EMBO
1990 Awarded the FEBS Anniversary Prize
1998 – 2001 President-Elect and President of the RNA Society
1999 Elected member of Academia Europaea
1999 Elected “Fellow of the Royal Society, FRS”
2000 Elected “Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, FRSE”
2001 Awarded the Caledonian Research Foundation/RSE prize lectureship
2001 Awarded the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine
2001 Awarded Honorary Membership of the Japanese Biochemical Society on presentation of the “President’s Symposium Plenary Lecture”
2001 Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2002 – 2016 Trustee of the Darwin Trust, a charitable trust dedicated to supporting young scientists from developing countries
2003 – 2009 Curator of the Lautenschläger Research Prize
2005 Elected member of the “Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina”
2005 Delivered the “Severo Ochoa Commemorative Lecture”

marking the centenary of Ochoa’s birth in Madrid

2006 Honorary Professor, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, Heidelberg, Germany
2010 Recipient of the Science and Society Award of the Italian Chemical Society
2010 Honorary Doctorate, University of Edinburgh, UK
2012 Recipient of the Feldberg Foundation Prize, Germany/UK
2012 Honorary Doctorate, University of Dundee, UK
2013 Honorary Doctorate, Umea University, Sweden
2016 Elected “Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, FMedSci”
2017 Elected “Foreign Associate of National Academy of Sciences”
2017 Visiting Professor, University Milano-Bicocca, Italy
2017 – present Chair of the Board of Trustees, Darwin Trust