Alfred Cortés

Institut de Salut Global Barcelona (ISGlobal)

Life & Medical Sciences

After obtaining a PhD for work on Drosophila DNA binding proteins (CID-CSIC, Barcelona), he gave a strong turn to his career to apply his molecular biology skills to study a disease affecting less developed countries: malaria. He worked for four years as Head of the Molecular Parasitology lab at the Papua New Guinea IMR, where his research mainly focused on basic aspects of malaria parasite biology, but also on epidemiological aspects of the disease. Back to Europe, he worked for over two years at the MRC-NIMR (London) on epigenetic regulation of gene expression and invasion of erythrocytes by malaria parasites. In 2006 he moved to IRB Barcelona with an ICREA jr contract. In 2011 he joined CRESIB/ISGlobal, and in 2012 he was appointed ICREA Research Professor. His research of the last few years has focused on epigenetic variation in malaria parasites, which plays a key role in the adaptation of these parasites to changes in their environment and in sexual conversion.

Research interests

We recently found that the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum regulates at the epigenetic level the expression of a multitude of genes that participate in host-parasite interactions. These genes can be found in either an active or a silenced state, which is clonally transmitted from one generation to the next. Spontaneous transitions between the two states occur, albeit at low frequency. At the malaria epigenetics lab we study the chromatin-based mechanisms involved in the epigenetic regulation of clonally variant and mutually exclusive gene expression in malaria parasites. Another major interest of the lab is characterizing how these parasites adapt to diverse changes in their environment using stochastic epigenetic variation. More specifically, our current main focus is on the clonally variant genes that control solute transport, resistance to heat-shock episodes mimicking malaria fever episodes, and sexual conversion, the latter essential for malaria transmission.

Selected publications

– Rovira-Graells N, Aguilera-Simón S, Tintó-Font E & Cortés A 2016, ‘New Assays to Characterise Growth-Related Phenotypes of Plasmodium falciparum Reveal Variation in Density-Dependent Growth Inhibition between Parasite Lines’, PLoS One 11(10):e0165358. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165358.

Selected research activities

-Invited conference at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), London, UK.

-Invited conference at the Sociedad Española de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular (SEBBM) XXXIX anual meeting, Molecular Parasitology session, Salamanca, Spain.

-Participation by invitation and oral presentation at the ‘CRISPR Approaches for Apicomplexans’ retreat, Hinxton, Cambridge, UK.

-Outreach activity: conference at a pub as part of the ‘Pint of Science’ international initiative, Barcelona.

-New grants awarded: Retos (2017-19) and Explora (2017-18), MINECO, Spain.

-New fellowship awarded for a PhD student to work in the team (2017-20): Marie Curie-Erasmus mundus, TransGlobalHealth.