The Department of Biochemistry was founded in 2005. On April 30th 2018 the director of the department Prof. Dr. Elisa Izaurralde died untimely. Prof. Dr. Ralf Sommer took over the management of the department as interim director. Ralf Sommer is also director of the research department for Integrative Evolutionary Biology at the institute. The Department of Biochemistry was closed at the end of May 2020, after all doctoral students could successfully finish their theses.
Elisa Izaurralde, the Director of the Department of Biochemistry, died untimely on Monday 30th April. She was much admired, respected and cherished not only by her mentees and close colleagues in the department but also in her field of RNA biology and the international scientific community.
Elisa held a career-long fascination with the mechanisms that control the cellular fate of messenger RNA, the central mediator of eukaryotic gene expression. During her time as an early career researcher at the University of Geneva and at the EMBL in Heidelberg she made seminal contributions towards our understanding of how messenger RNA is exported from the cell nucleus to the cytoplasm. Then, as a Director and Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society she shifted her research toward the molecular mechanisms that enable small micro RNAs and specific RNA binding proteins to selectively silence messenger RNA molecules. This occurs via translational repression and/or the orchestrated decay of the messenger RNA. Both of these mechanisms lately were the at center of ongoing research in the department, where Elisa coordinated cellular, molecular, and structural approaches in a vibrant environment.
All of us who had the opportunity to work closely with Elisa will remember her indefatigable passion for science, thirst for knowledge and commitment to excellence. She was an exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable experimental scientist and her meticulous approaches always went hand-in-hand with tireless energy, optimism and humour. We appreciated and admired her sharp, incisive mind, finesse and professionalism that kept her research at the forefront of scientific discovery for so many years. Her sense of duty and obligation towards training the next generation of scientists made her a true and widely respected role model of both mentorship and leadership in the scientific community.
Elisa cared for people as she did for science. Her trainees were taught to excel and to meet the highest professional standards in experimental work as well as in skills of presenting their achievements to the public. She considered it her highest priority to always be available for students and trainees, to give direction and comment on their latest results, manuscripts and presentations. To her more senior colleagues, she was an inexhaustible source of wise advice, support and encouragement.
Her enduring legacy will be in as much in people she had trained and advised as in her own outstanding contribution to science. All of us who were privileged to work with Elisa will cherish the time we had spent working with her and she will be sorely missed.