Genetics and biology of the interactions between the human malaria parasite and the mosquito vector; Genetics and biology of the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum.
Research in my laboratory focuses on the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The primary aim of our research is to understand the effect of parasite genetic polymorphism on parasite phenotypic variation, particularly in transmission biology, parasite-vector interactions and parasite growth rate in the red blood cells of the human host.
We want to understand what makes some malaria parasites better at infecting mosquitoes? Why do some parasites grow more quickly in the body, and cause more severe forms of malaria disease?
We use the tools of genetic mapping of experimental crosses to identify parasite genes linked to these important traits. We curate the progeny clones from the first experimental genetic cross (Walliker et al., 1987), between parasite clones 3D7 and HB3, and we have developed a large number of progeny clones from this cross. We have generated a dense genetic map of these progeny clones to allow linkage analyses and identification of genetic loci contributing to differences in parasite phenotype.
Our current research aims to identify parasite quantitative trait loci (QTL) that control infection prevalence and intensity in Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, and that control virulence factors such as the rate of parasite replication in erythrocytes. Other projects include the quantitation of parasite replication in the mosquito, and the genetic control of sex differentiation in the sexual gametocyte stage.
We maintain many different lines of human malaria parasites in culture, as well as three different species of Anopheles mosquitoes in insectaries, which we infect with P. falciparum sexual stages grown in culture.
We combine our laboratory experimental work with fieldwork in a number of malaria-endemic countries. We seek to apply the information on genetic differences between parasites, gained from our experimental work, to develop new tests to predict disease severity in people, or the likelihood of mosquito transmission.
We work collaboratively with colleagues in Europe and in malaria-endemic countries in Africa, SE Asia and South America, to monitor antimalarial drug resistance using molecular markers, to examine population genetics of malaria parasites, and to investigate mosquito transmission of parasites with genetically modified genes such as those involved in cell cycle control.