Portrait of Elisa Izaurralde 2016; Photo by Constance Brukin

Hundreds of scientists recently hailed from around the world to attend Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s 84th Symposium, this year centered on RNA Control and Regulation. One scientist whose absence was deeply felt was Dr. Elisa Izaurralde, whom the world lost much too soon.

In April 2018, we were deeply saddened to learn of the death of this Uruguayan biochemist and molecular biologist known for her research on RNA. In order to make a protein, genetic information in DNA is copied (transcribed) into messenger RNA (mRNA) in the nucleus and then exported into the cytoplasm, where it is translated into a protein. Much of Izaurralde’s early career focused on elucidating how the nuclear export occurs at a molecular level and her later work shifted to examining how this mRNA is selectively silenced.

Izaurralde was born in Montevideo, Uruguay on September 20, 1959. At the age of 17 she left Uruguay, where educational opportunities were scarce at the time, to pursue schooling at Geneva University in Switzerland. After undergraduate training in biochemistry, she went on to receive a PhD in molecular biology in 1989, for work on chromatin organization.

In 1990, she took postdoctoral position at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. It was here that she switched her focus from DNA to RNA and met Italian biophysicist Elena Conti, with whom she would share the 2008 Leibniz Prize for their work on RNA transport and metabolism.

In 1996, she returned to Geneva University, where she got experience heading her own research group for the first time, before going back to EMBL as a group leader and, later, a senior scientist.  In 2005, she became Director of the Biochemistry Department at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, a position she held until her death.

Throughout her career, she served on many advisory and editorial boards and co-organized numerous meetings and conferences including multiple meetings on translational control and non-coding RNA at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She was co-organizing last year’s meeting on “Regulatory & Non-Coding RNAs” and her absence was deeply felt there as well.

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