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Jenna Achenbach

Solver: Jenna Achenbach

Posted by Battelle Insider on May 15, 2018

Battelle Research Scientist Jenna Achenbach is working to keep the world safe from infectious diseases.

During her 20-year career, Jenna has worked with laboratories around the world to improve their ability to detect, identify and respond to emerging human and zoological diseases and biological threat agents. 

“I really enjoy the problem-solving and troubleshooting aspect of what I do,” she said. 

Jenna said virology and molecular biology are fields that are constantly changing as new threats emerge and new technologies become available.  

“It’s important to me that the work I do is helping to keep my country, my family and the world at large safe. We have threats looming over us all the time, from emerging diseases to intentionally created bioagents. I have a passion and a desire to make sure laboratories are equipped and trained to respond to these threats effectively,” she said. 

Jenna has a B.S. in biology from Drake University, an M.Sc. in molecular virology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a Ph.D. in virology from Colorado State University. Her work at Battelle is focused on biological threat agents, biosecurity and CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive) defense. 

Keeping up with evolving threats is a constant challenge in Jenna’s world. 

“Bioagents like anthrax and ricin are still among the biggest threats, and we need to be prepared to respond to them. But there are new threats emerging from the growing synthetic biology industry. There also are growing challenges in tracking and containing emerging infectious diseases as our world becomes more connected and people are living in closer proximity to each other and to animal vectors that can spread zoonotic pathogens,” she said. 

Jenna has worked with a number of international labs over the years, often in countries with limited resources for new technology and infrastructure, which has given her unique insight into what is necessary to help small labs thrive in their own environment. 

“The biggest challenge for labs is ensuring the accuracy of results. Of course, you can’t afford false negatives – we need to ensure that potentially harmful organisms are identified correctly right away so we can stop their spread and reduce harm to the community. But false positives are expensive, too, and take time and resources away from addressing real problems,” she said.

Jenna said she sees herself continuing to spend time in the field helping laboratories prepare for current and emerging biosecurity threats. 

“It is critically important that laboratories across the country and in other parts of the world are prepared to quickly identify and respond to potential disease or bioagent threats. If we can reduce the time that it takes to detect and characterize potential threats we can put threat reduction plans into action faster and significantly reduce the spread and impact of pathogens. Improving the speed and accuracy of our labs will ultimately save lives,” she said. 

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