IN MEMORIAM: Gloria Rudenko (1961–2022)

6 December 2022

Gloria Rudenko passed away, aged 61, on the 24th November 2022.

Gloria was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1961. Her first five years were spent in Fiji, perhaps there sparking a lifelong love of travel, the tropics, and tropical diseases. She grew up in San Francisco in the United States and attended San Francisco University High School. After spending her freshman year at Yale University, she moved in 1980 to the Netherlands to study Biology at Leiden University, despite not speaking a word of Dutch. She learned microbiology from a German textbook (she didn’t speak German either!), translating the textbook word for word from German to Dutch (so she could do the exams in Dutch) and from there to English. As an undergraduate student, she did a key Master’s biochemistry thesis project with Prof. Piet Borst at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, where she developed a lifelong affection for trypanosomes.

Gloria obtained her PhD from the University of Amsterdam awarded on the basis of her research performed at Columbia University in New York City under the mentorship of Prof. Lex van der Ploeg. In 1987 she moved back to the Netherlands for her post-doctoral studies under the mentorship of Prof. Borst. In these early studies she developed her interest in gene expression in Trypanosoma brucei and discovered that T. brucei uses RNA polymerase I (Pol I) to express procyclin, which is the major surface protein in the insect form. This is highly unusual, as eukaryotes typically use Pol I to exclusively transcribe rDNA. The active Variant Surface Glycoprotein (VSG) gene of bloodstream form T. brucei is also transcribed by Pol I, and Gloria showed that the regulation of VSG transcription is not promoter sequence specific. Undoubtably, such early work set the scene for her continuing interest in chromatin and epigenetic factors involved in VSG expression.

Gloria moved to the UK in 1998 to set up her own independent laboratory at the University of Oxford as a Wellcome Senior Research Fellow in the Peter Medawar Building and a Reader in the Department of Biochemistry. She further developed her interest in VSG expression sites and it was through her research that we had an understanding of the genomic structure of the many telomeric expression sites, something that had been deemed too difficult for the genome project. Gloria established the importance of a broad range key chromatin re-modelers and architectural proteins in VSG expression. She made fundamental contributions to our understanding of VSG switching, and documented a preferential hierarchy of VSG expression.

In 2010, Gloria moved to a Professorship at Imperial College London where she successfully refunded her Wellcome Senior Fellowship maintaining that prestigious award throughout her career. These positions allowed her to build her research group and to guide and mentor a further talented group of younger scientists. Over her career Gloria was a tireless advocate for her students, an inspirational teacher and mentor, an innovative and transformative researcher and an efficient and visionary administrator. Most of all, however, she was a genuinely nice, considerate and modest person. She gave huge amounts of credit and personal support to colleagues, collaborators and students.

At Imperial College, Gloria expanded her interest on VSG expression control from gene to protein and its cellular context. Building on cell biological discoveries that the trypanosome monitors the level of VSG protein, she made insightful contributions to the understanding of mono-allelic control, establishing the importance of nuclear positioning of active VSG expression sites and, more recently, revealing that the organisation of the trypanosome nucleus has evolved sites critical for efficient VSG mRNA processing.

Gloria’s research was marked by her careful studies, attention to detail and her rigorous standards. She was fearless in tackling difficult topics and was endlessly persistent in unraveling the intricacies of antigenic variation in trypanosomes. Despite facing serious health issues over the past two decades, Gloria continued to run her laboratory with steely determination. She was an immensely brave, intelligent woman and an excellent scientist. She will be sadly missed.

Outside of academia, Gloria loved traveling. Her travels took her to Brazil, Thailand, Africa, all over Europe and the United States. Gloria enjoyed traveling to the Benelux, Switzerland and the United States to spend time with her family and friends every year. Gloria is survived by her younger sister Gabrielle, brother-in-law Greg, and their two children, Vincent and Lani, in the United States, and many cousins including Oleg and Paul (Benelux) and Claudius and Cornelia (Switzerland) and their respective families.




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