Jennifer Zenker: triathlete, scientist and ARMI’s newest Group Leader

28 Aug,2018

Jennifer Zenker: triathlete, scientist and ARMI’s newest Group Leader

Dr Jennifer Zenker, ARMI’s newest Group Leader.

Three years ago, Dr Jennifer Zenker made the brave move from Australia to Singapore. Leaving behind her many friends and life as a postdoctoral scientist at EMBL Australia, Jenny was willing to drop it all to pursue her research career in microtubule dynamics. Following her Lab head at the time, Nicolas Plachta, Jenny was fixed on unlocking the intricacies of cell structure and function.

In a great twist of fate, Jenny is now set to arrive back in Australia in November, this time coming as ARMI’s newest Group Leader. Joining us from A*STAR (Agency for Science Technology and Research) in Singapore, Jenny will be establishing the Zenker Group, seeking to understand how a cell’s structure and function is regulated by the continuous reorganization of the microtubule network.

Jenny’s appointment at ARMI all began with an email to the Director of Research, Professor Peter Currie. Enquiring about any upcoming opportunities, Jenny had no idea of how perfect her timing was, or what she would be planning in the coming weeks.

“I had nothing to lose, so I gave it a shot” smiled Jenny. “I contacted Peter directly, and I heard back within five minutes.” Always armed with the intention of returning to Australia, Jenny jumped at the opportunity to become a Group Leader, accepting the position almost immediately.

The Zenker Group aims to unravel the complexities of microtubule dynamics at the cellular level through the utilization of live imaging. Microtubules, the cytoskeleton that provides structure and shape to cells, play an essential role in a variety of critical cellular processes. Understanding these processes is the foundation of the Group’s research, and its potential application in a broad range of treatments is what interests Jenny the most.

“Understanding the dynamics and the biology of microtubules is a key aspect of regenerative medicine” commented Jenny, “especially in cases such as embryonic development, fighting cancer and encouraging wound healing. Using live imaging allows us to see the movements of the microtubules up close and personal (and in real-time). This greatly improves our ability to understand the underlying functionalities of microtubules and by extension, cells.”

Growing up in Germany, Jenny has always had an interest in science. Watching her brother bring home fruit flies and cross breed them as part of his school assignments fascinated Jenny – and provided her with her first hands-on experience with lab work.

By the time she reached her brother’s age, she had taken up science herself, excelling and eventually graduating with a PhD in Neurobiology from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. By the time she joined A*STAR, she was the first scientist based in Singapore to receive the prestigious Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) postdoctoral fellowship in 2015.

Aside from science, Jenny has a strong love for athletics, competing in a professional level triathlon. Stepping up from Olympic distance races to Half-Ironman and Ironman during her residence in Australia, she is now a major competitor, participating in the Half-Ironman World Championships in South Africa on the 1st of September this year. A key motivator for moving back to Australia, Jenny is looking forward to taking advantage of the world-class Australian beaches and training with her triathlon team, whom she considers her second family.

Moving forward, Jenny has her eyes set on three things; her lab, the triathlon racetrack and Australia’s unique flora and fauna. We look forward to welcoming you in November Jenny.

For more information on Jennifer Zenker and her Group at ARMI, please visit the Zenker Group Page and their publications here. You may also follow her on LinkedIn.

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