A freeze on funding for the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) has prompted its executive director, Frank Gannon, to threaten resignation unless prospects improve.

The organization promotes molecular biology through postdoctoral fellowships, conferences and workshops, and is funded by the 24 member countries of the European Molecular Biology Conference.

This summer, the conference unanimously accepted a five-year plan outlining EMBO's funding priorities for 2004–08. The plan includes an extension of EMBO's two-year fellowship programme to three years. This programme supports the training of young postdoctoral biologists and allows them to travel between labs.

But it now seems that there will not be enough money to pull such plans off. Last month, the conference's four largest members — Germany, Britain, France and Italy — unexpectedly rejected any increase in EMBO's budget for 2004–06.

The situation is all the more worrying, says Gannon, because the number of applicants for the fellowship programme has leapt in the past two years, probably because of the poor job market for biologists in countries such as Germany, France and Spain. But as the number of applicants has risen, the money to support them remains the same. The success rate for applicants has fallen from 22% before 2001 to below 15% now, and may continue to fall.

“I would not be able to stand over an inadequately funded programme, as it would damage EMBO's reputation,” says Gannon.

EMBO asked conference members for a budget increase from €10.8 million (US$13.2 million) to €15.5 million in 2006. The contribution of different countries is linked to economic performance, so Britain would shoulder the biggest rise, of some €1 million by 2006 — a 44% increase.

“We didn't say that we couldn't agree to any increase, but we felt that 44% is too much,” says David Smith, an official at the UK Medical Research Council, which funds Britain's membership of the conference.

Conference members will discuss the possibility of obtaining further funding at a special meeting in January.