Born on 23 June 1948 in Pahang, Malaysia. He is married and has five children.
He obtained a Dip. Agric. From the College of Agriculture in Malaya, Malaysia (1969), a BS in Crop Science from Louisiana State University, USA (1972), and an MS (1974) and a PhD (1976), both in Crop Science (Plant Breeding) from Michigan State University, USA.
He started his career as a Lecturer in the Department of Biology at the University of Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) (1976-1979), and became Associate Professor (1980-1986) and then Professor (1986-2000) in the Department of Genetics at UKM. He was a Fulbright-Hays Visiting Scientist in the Department of Biology at the University of Maryland, USA (1981-1982). On the administrative side, he was Head of the Department of Genetics (1978-1981), Deputy Dean (1983-1987) and Dean (1987-1992) in the Faculty of Life Sciences, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Research) (1989), Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development Affairs) (1992-1995), Acting Vice-Chancellor (1998) and finally Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) (1995-2000), all at UKM. He is currently the Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies at the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan (2001-present).
He has been Assistant Secretary-General (1980-1981) and Secretary-General (1981-1989) of the Society for the Advancement of Breeding Research in Asia and Oceania (SABRAO), a member of the Executive Committee of the Malaysian Society of Applied Biology (1986-1987), President of the Genetics Society of Malaysia (1994-present). He was inducted as one of 50 Foundation Fellows of the Malaysian Academy of Sciences (1995) and has been a member of its Executive Committee (1998-present). He is also a member of a number of national and international professional bodies in his field.
His areas of research interest have been the Breeding of Rice and Soybean for Malaysian Conditions (1976-1997), Genetic variation of Indigenous Malaysian Timber Species (1996-present), and Biodiversity and Biotechnology Policies for Developing Countries (1990-present). He has written or contributed to more than 70 scientific papers on plant breeding and genetics and approx. 30 papers on related topics, and authored, edited or contributed to approx. 20 books. He has participated in a large number of national and international committees and conferences on agricultural issues. He has supervised 25 MSc and PhD theses, and been an External Examiner on a number of occasions for MSc and PhD candidates at Universiti Malaya, Universiti Pertanian Malaysia and the University of Delhi, India.
He has been awarded the following honours and distinctions: the Fulbright-Hays Malaysian Lecturer Award by the Malaysian-America Commission on Educational Exchange (1981), the title “Dato” by the Sultan of Pahang (1991), the Kestria Mangku Negara (KMN) by the Malaysian King (1993), the Excellent Service Award from the Academic Association of UKM (1997), the Langkawi Award for outstanding contribution in the field of the environment (1998), and the Rotary Research Foundation Gold Medal (Agricultural and Biological Sciences) (1999).
Prof. Zakri was elected as a Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS) in 2006.