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Iain Mattaj

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Iain Mattaj



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

Mattaj's Honours


Elected member of EMBO


Awarded the FEBS Anniversary Prize

1998 – 2001

President-Elect and President of the RNA Society


Elected member of Academia Europaea


Elected “Fellow of the Royal Society, FRS”


Elected “Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, FRSE”


Awarded the Caledonian Research Foundation/RSE prize lectureship


Awarded the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine


Awarded Honorary Membership of the Japanese Biochemical Society on presentation of the “President’s Symposium Plenary Lecture”


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


Elected member of the “Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina”


Delivered the “Severo Ochoa Commemorative Lecture”

marking the centenary of Ochoa’s birth in Madrid


Honorary Professor, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, Heidelberg, Germany


Recipient of the Science and Society Award of the Italian Chemical Society


Honorary Doctorate, University of Edinburgh, UK


Recipient of the Feldberg Foundation Prize, Germany/UK


Honorary Doctorate, University of Dundee, UK


Honorary Doctorate, Umea University, Sweden


Elected “Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, FMedSci”


Elected “Foreign Associate of National Academy of Sciences”


Visiting Professor, University Milano-Bicocca, Italy

2017 - present

Chair of the Board of Trustees, Darwin Trust