More recently, Torres’ group cloned and characterized a T. cruzi SR-like protein and proved that it is the functional orthologue of a classic mammalian mRNA splicing factor. This proved that T. cruzi has the same machinery for splicing RNA as higher eukaryotes.
Torres remained scientifically active until the end. Death found him working on mechanisms that control osmoregulation in T. cruzi epimastigotes, on the regulation of poly (ADP-ribose) metabolism as it affects the DNA damage-response and cell death pathways, and on manipulating T. cruzi’s redox equilibrium to affect detoxification and pro-drug transformation, thus connecting basic research results to a possible solution for a major public health problem in his country.
Torres was a stalwart of Argentine science. Except for a short time in the U.S. as a Guggenheim Fellow, he worked exclusively in his home country, where he assumed multiple leadership roles. Torres served on the executive councils of both the University of Buenos Aires and the Argentine National Research Council. In 1983, under the auspices of Leloir’s Institute and the Argentine Research Council, he founded South America’s first Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering. As INGEBI’s director, Torres fostered the development of young graduate students into mature scientists in an atmosphere of political freedom.
After 1985, in a newly democratized nation after twenty years of political oppression, Torres became dean of the University of Buenos Aires School of Sciences (1988 – 1990). In his role as dean, he is credited with having greatly diminished the wounds caused by the 1966 military intervention in academic affairs that all but destroyed that school’s scientific standing and prevented academic freedom under its roof.
Torres and his collaborators at INGEBI successfully mentored more than 138 graduate students and organized numerous advanced graduate courses with faculty members drawn from around the world, including the U.S. and Europe. INGEBI, which Torres directed until 2009, is home to 35 independent investigators, including Pew Latin American Fellows and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators, attesting to the high scientific standard Torres was able to attain for the research institute.
Deservedly, Héctor Torres was well recognized by his peers and won honors and awards. He was a member of the Argentine National Academies of Science (1998) and Medicine (2005) and corresponding member of the Brazilian (1999) and Chilean (2002) Academies of Science. Among his awards were the Premio Odol in Biology (1969), the Konex Platinum Award in Genetics (1993), the Luis F. Leoir Award in Chemistry (1996), the Bunge y Born Award in Molecular Biology (2000) and the J.J. Kyle Award of the Argentine Chemical Society (2005).
On a personal note, between 1964 and 1967, I was the Doc’s first graduate student. I'll always remember when I first met him in his laboratory at the Fundación Campomar as a prospective graduate student with a “research plan” in hand, he said ”Here, we do not speculate, we pipet,” thus seeding my research career as an experimentalist. I am forever thankfulI am forever thankful to him for infusing in me enthusiasm for researching the wonders that make us living beings.
Please feel free to add your reflections on Héctor Norberto Torres to the comment section below.
Lutz Birnbaumer (firstname.lastname@example.org) heads the transmembrane signaling group within the laboratory of neurobiology at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.