Meet the PI
Peter Currie, PhD
Director, Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute
Head, EMBL Australia Melbourne Node
NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow
What is the research focus of your lab? The Currie group use zebrafish to learn about skeletal muscle cell types. In particular, they are interested in how specific muscle cell types are determined within the developing embryo, how they grow and how they regenerate after injury. We have also invested heavily in using zebrafish as models of human muscle disease. We are also fascinated about how the processes that generate different muscles and anatomies have evolved in the vertebrate lineage and also use a rage of non-model fish species to make these discoveries.
How long have you been working with zebrafish? How long have you had your own lab? I started working with Zebrafish in 1993 as a Post Doc in Phil Ingham’s lab in London.
Getting to know you better
Where were you born/where did you grow up? I was born and raised in Melbourne Australia, an amazingly vibrant and energetic new world city, and after circumnavigating the globe now live less than a mile from the house I was born in.
Tell us something about yourself in one sentence. Many people have remarked that I display most of stereotypical characters of being Australian, easy going, egalitarian, socially minded with an over fondness for beer and cricket, however I think my defining feature as a scientist is a dogged determination to answer the question at hand and what success I have had I think I can connect directly to that attribute.
Which of the current projects in your lab you are most excited about? This changes every day and it is one of the great joys of working with a diverse range of projects in the group. I’m drawn to the passion of the student or post doc who is doing the work and what they finding exciting. It’s simply not possible to choose between the major projects in the group. However, I have to say that personally I really like projects that are inter-disciplinary and are implementing new approaches in the lab. I like to be learning all the time and I find it energizing. The areas in which we are breaking new ground technically. and as a consequence are bearing the most fruit at the moment, is in our stem cell and evolutionary studies.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in science/research? Many people thinking about starting in science often hear a lot about the negatives of job insecurities and lack of funding. I have to say, from my observations, these pressures exist in many other professions. We hear less about the positives. I always say in what other job can you pick what you want to do when you wake up in the morning, answer and the question you are personally curious about, be surrounded by incredibly smart and motivated people all the time. You also get to travel the globe and interact in a global community. Now that’s a job description! However the number one thing you need is a driving passion to answer questions about which you yourself are curious to know the answers. Without this it’s just another job..
Which part of the PI job you enjoy the most? Why? I really enjoy my job of being “Mentor in Chief” at ARMI. Working with my group and helping guide the growth and success of my trainees is really very rewarding. I think most PIs would say this. Also the collaborations I have built internationally over the years and remaining connected to the environments and people that supported me in my growth as a scientist is also a great joy to reflect on.
Outside of work
What do you enjoy doing outside of work/lab? Like most Australians I am drawn to the beach and the water and spend every moment I can observing fish in their natural habitat and I count this one of the greatest benefits of living where I live. My other great passion is classical history, and really enjoy clambering of dusty ruins in far flung places. I would like to go back to study history at University when (if) time ever permits.
What career would you have liked if you were not a scientist? Historian definitely. I think I have more books on history than on science on my bookshelf.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your lab and work? Australia has managed the pandemic better than most countries as it maintained control of its borders and has had very effective lockdown procedures. So compared to most countries we have had a light touch of the virus. However, to achieve this Melbourne went through a very severe 5 month lock down, one of the most severe globally, and I had to steer the entire Institute and the lab through this. Although we remained open in a restricted manner, like ever where else, the stresses and strains particularly on PhD students and post docs who see the clock ticking on their career was enormous. A lot of support was needed for everyone. It was especially hard on those with school age children. Personally I had to contend with a year 12 student at home (the final critical year for Australian students) doing the vast majority of her learning at home which was tough. Imagine doing your final year of school at home with you Dad!. It lead to some zooms being held in very strange places in my house over the 5 months and some very interesting discussions. For the lab, I tried to encourage everyone to have a lock down project, not just work, so it did bring out some creative aspects of the group as a whole. We did online cooking, drawing and painting and Origami, which I learnt one of the PhD students was extraordinary at. I now have a foot long Origami shark in my office made from a single sheet of paper. Amazing the talents people have!
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics
What is the research focus of your lab? My lab focuses on molecular mechanisms that govern hematopoiesis, starting from hematopoietic stem cell formation during development and expanding to adult hematopoietic regeneration, aging and disease. It is fascinating for us how an organism can reuse developmental pathways later in life for beneficial or not so beneficial purposes. For our research, we take advantage of the unique benefits of zebrafish as a model organism, but we also use mouse and human cells depending on our scientific questions.
How long have you been working with zebrafish? How long have you had your own lab? My first encounter with zebrafish was in Len Zon’s lab in 2007, where I did my postdoctoral studies. In such an amazing environment I could easily learn a lot and deeply understand the benefits of this model. I was really very proud when I generated my first transgenic zebrafish. However, my main focus back then was to enhance my knowledge on genome-wide studies and use them to understand basic molecular mechanisms of hematopoietic differentiation, mainly in the human system. I started my own lab in September 2013 and there I had decided to combine all the knowledge I had gained during my graduate and postgraduate studies and zebrafish was a great part of it. Now we use this model regularly to answer a variety of questions regarding hematopoiesis. My deepest desire has always been to perform a genetic screen in zebrafish and uncover hidden mechanisms of hematopoietic stem cell development. This has not happened yet, since it was too big of a task and very risky for starting a lab. Luckily, we are now approaching a stage in the lab that will permit us to undertake such a task and I have to tell you I cannot wait to do it.
Getting to know you better
Where were you born/where did you grow up? I was born and raised in Athens in Greece nurtured by the light, the sea and the amazing vibe of this city. In Athens the old and the new, the weird and the sane are in a perfect balance, which has truly shaped my personality. My PhD time in Athens was a party zone scientifically and otherwise.
Tell us something about yourself in one sentence. I love Tom Robbins’ books, so one of my favorite quotes of his is: “You should never hesitate to trade your cow for a handful of magic beans”. Do I live by it? I like to think that I try to.
Which of the current projects in your lab you are most excited about? I like all our projects, of course. Right now, the majority of the people in my lab work on the idea of buffering of transcriptional noise mediated by sensors during developmental transitions or in other settings. I like this idea, since it is abstract and kind of conceptual and, in my imagination, it could be a painting or a game so I am never bored.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in science/research? Well, it is not an easy job. I think that persistence is one of the major qualifications that you need to overcome hurdles. Networking, at least as much as possible, is also important these days. Personally, I would also add that it is important to choose your mentors wisely - I owe a lot to all my mentors and in particular Len Zon - and choose a friendly and safe environment.
Which part of the PI job you enjoy the most? Why? The job of a PI is dramatically different compared to my previous scientific career. As a person who has always enjoyed doing experiments, I have to say that this part of life has greatly diminished and I miss it. Otherwise, I enjoy when my students prove me wrong even though I truly like to be right. And of course the wine with the lab after a good or bad storm.
Outside of work
What do you enjoy doing outside of work/lab? I like to do all the things that covid is not allowing us to do anymore. Travel, concerts and going out were always a part of my life. Between mountain and sea I choose sea.
What career would you have liked if you were not a scientist? I truly have no idea. I still struggle with the idea of being a scientist and what that means.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your lab and work? I have to say that I am grateful to MPI-IE for the way they handled this crisis. It was decisive and worked to our benefit. This helped with alleviating the major disruptions of our work. However, we are all tired now and this affects us as well. We are still privileged though, so we cannot really complain.