Monica Riley (1926 – 2013)

Emeritus Professor Monica Riley, a pioneer in the fields of molecular biology and microbial genome analysis, died from heart failure on October 11, 2013 in Richmond, CA. She was 87 years old.

Dr. Riley graduated from Smith College in 1947 with a degree in chemistry and received her Ph.D. in 1960 in Biochemistry from University of California, Berkeley under the direction of Arthur Pardee. She did her postdoctoral research at Stanford University before joining the Bacteriology Department at University of California, Davis as a faculty member. Dr. Riley moved to the Department of Biochemistry at State University of New York Stony Brook where she rose to full professor. She also taught at University Paris-Sud as a visiting professor. She came to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole during a sabbatical year and soon thereafter, in 1992, made MBL her home for the rest of her scientific career. As a senior scientist at MBL she was one of the four founding faculty members of the Josephine Bay Paul Center for Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution led by Dr. Mitchell Sogin. At the age of 80 she retired and moved to Point Richmond, CA to be near her family.

During her long career Dr. Riley contributed significantly to the advancement of science. As a graduate student she worked with Drs. Arthur Pardee, Francois Jacob, and Jacques Monod, doing groundbreaking work on gene expression that contributed to the discovery of mRNA. She continued to study the relationship between gene sequences, enzyme specificity, metabolic capabilities, and genome evolution in Escherichia coli K-12. Her training in microbial physiology along with the emergence of DNA sequencing led to her groundbreaking work in the field of genomics with the development of new standards for genome annotation. During sequencing of the Escherichia coli K-12 genome, Dr. Riley developed classification systems for gene products and their functions, pioneering the current gene ontologies (i.e. the Gene Ontology project) and shaping the fields of functional and comparative genomics. As a co-founder of the database EcoCyc, she led the curation of metabolic pathways and genome information for Escherichia coli for over a decade.

Monica Riley’s annotation approaches recognized the complexity of biological functions evident in multifunctional and multi-domain containing gene products and the use of protein families in annotation. Today’s annotation pipelines in sequencing centers all over the world rely upon the framework and function assignment rules she developed for genome analysis. Monica embraced the emergence of bioinformatics and its power for addressing the complexities of biology. She enthusiastically contributed her vast biological knowledge towards improving the accuracy of annotation efforts and generated computational models for system-level studies of microbes. In these ways she chose to take an active role in bridging the gap between biological and computational scientists.

Monica is remembered with fondness by the scientific community both for her founding work but also for the way she approached her work with joy and untiring energy. Her enthusiasm and active participation was a true inspiration. Many of us will remember her lively eyes, smile, and laughter while discussing science or other topics that were important to her. Monica was an avid sailor and backpacker during her early years in California. She hiked in the high Sierra backcountry bringing her children along as soon as they were old enough to carry a small pack. Traveling was another passion of Monica’s, and she continued to visit destinations all over the world as long as her health allowed it. A highlight was bringing her grandchildren to Kenya and Tanzania in 2004. Monica was active in the League of Women Voters. After retiring from science, she enjoyed reading up on many subjects of interest, including the history of life on earth and of human societies throughout times. She became an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley where she continued to share her knowledge and give lectures. Her greatest joy in retirement was being close to family, in particular her children Kayla and Adam and grandchildren Avi and Sarah.

Monica is survived by her son Adam Lusby of Eldridge, CA, daughter and son-in-law Kayla Lusby Garelick and Morey Garelick of Berkeley, CA, two grandchildren Avi and Sarah Garelick, brother Karl Riley, half brother Bryant Riley, and stepchildren Steve Lusby and Cecile Lusby. She is preceded in death by her daughter Chris Lusby.

Monica was a true lifelong learner. Her wisdom, wealth of knowledge, and involvement in the research community was an inspiration to those of us who worked with her or got to know her. She will be greatly missed by us all.

Gretta Serres
Mitchell Sogin
Marine Biological Laboratory