Postdoctoral Alumni - Jochen Rink

Jochen Rink
Group Leader, Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics
Dresden, Germany

Jochen Rink is fascinated by a big question: Why is his left arm the same length as his right?

Most people assume that the two sides of the body just ought to be perfect copies of each other, but Rink launched his career by asking how. “Since each arm contains billions of cells but both end up in a structure that is a pretty good mirror image of itself on the right and left mechanisms must be at work that accurately measure and specify dimensions in developing tissues,” says Rink, now a Group Leader at the Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-MCB) in Dresden, Germany.

After receiving his Ph.D. at MPI-CBG in 2006, Rink began postdoctoral studies with Stowers Investigator Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, then a faculty member at the University of Utah. There, Sánchez Alvarado was pioneering studies of regeneration using the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea. Although planaria neither have arms nor any other appendages, Rink realized that they represented the ideal system to address his question: When cut into multiple pieces, each fragment regenerates into a perfect miniature worm. During his four years in the Sánchez Alvarado lab Rink focused on identifying the molecular cues that govern this process.

Amongst other findings, those studies—published in Science in 2008 and 2009—revealed that the activity of the Wnt and Hedgehog signaling pathways instructs worms to build either a head or a tail. In 2011 Rink returned to MPI-CBG to start his own lab where he now investigates how planaria regenerate not only the anatomically correct structure, but also match the size of the new parts to the old ones. He misses doing his own experiments, but a year into the new job is beginning to realize that being the boss has its benefits: “A big positive to being a PI is that you can tackle five projects at once instead of just one.”