Yi Arial Zeng, PhD
Jan 2, 2019
Hometown: Nanning, China
Current residence: Shanghai, China
Graduate degree: Simon Fraser University, Canada
Current position: Principal investigator, Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
My research interests are understanding the regulatory mechanisms of adult stem cells and their interactions with the niche and determining how these mechanisms are hijacked in diseases. Over the past ten years, I have been focusing my research efforts on mammary stem cells and breast cancers. We discovered a Wnt-target called Procr that marks adult mammary stem cells. Currently, our interest in Procr-expressing stem cells has extended to other tissues.
As a scientist, I find it most rewarding when we discover something new and have firsthand knowledge of “the truth”. As a mentor, it is most rewarding to see my trainees develop and progress their careers.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
I believe it was the books I read and the people I met. In my childhood, I read many books about great scientists in history, Galileo Galilei, Maria Curie, Barbara McClintock, and so on. I knew early on what I wished to become. I studied developmental biology with Dr. Esther Verheyen during graduate school. Towards the end, I was fascinated about the origins of development and the stem cell. Next, I joined Dr. Roel Nusse’s lab for my postdoc where I started to work on adult stem cells and I have continued since then.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
Seeing your hypothesis being proven by experimental evidence, it is a thrill.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” - Galileo Galilei
“Take bold and radical steps. If you have promising leads, follow them. We don’t expect everything to work, but we do expect real advances in science to be made.” - Clifford Hudis
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
Both my PhD mentor Esther Verheyen and postdoc mentor Roel Nusse have supported and keep supporting me so well. They have helped shape my life and career, are lifelong mentors, and now collaborators. I am endlessly grateful to them. Many colleagues at work or friends I met at scientific conferences have also inspired me. That is a rewarding aspect of our job, you are surrounded by smart and passionate people.
How do you spend your free time?
I practice yoga, I go to musical theater, and I also like seal stone carving, which requires 100% focus and can be a good meditation.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
I have engaged in a-photo-a-day project for several years, to remind myself to take a moment to appreciate the beauty around me, obvious or subtle. I have hardly missed a day.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
I often attend the ISSCR annual meetings, where I can get an overview of where the stem cell field is going and be aware of technology trends. I also enjoy catching up with old friends there.