Alfred Cortés

Institut de Salut Global Barcelona

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 malaria parasites. 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 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 current research focuses on epigenetic regulation of gene expression in malaria parasites, which plays a key role in their adaptation to changes in the environment and in the control of sexual conversion, among other host-parasite interactions.

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 (clonally variant genes). 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 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 changes in their environment using stochastic transcriptional variation and other strategies. We combine studies at a genome-wide level with studies on specific clonally variant genes that control important processes such as sexual conversion, which is necessary for malaria transmission, or solute uptake.

Selected publications

- Cortés A & Deitsch KW 2017, 'Malaria Epigenetics', Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives In Medicine, 7, 7, a025528. Note: This review is also published as a chapter in the book Malaria: Biology in the Era of Eradication, (ISBN  978-1-621821-22-9), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, USA.

- Mira-Martínez S, van Schuppen E, Amambua-Ngwa A, Bottieau E, Affara M, Van Esbroeck M, Vlieghe E, Guetens P, Rovira-Graells N, Gómez-Pérez GP, Alonso PL, D’Alessandro U, Rosanas-Urgell A & Cortés A 2017, 'Expression of the Plasmodium falciparum clonally variant clag3 genes in human infections', J. Infect. Dis., 215, 6, 938 - 945.

Selected research activities

-Invited speaker at the Keystone symposia “Malaria: From Innovation to Eradication”, Kampala, Uganda.

- External advisor for the DELGEME African training network, focusing on capacity building (predoctoral and postdoctoral) in the field of high-throughput (omics) malaria research. Participation in the Project development workshop (Bamako, Mali).

-Co-organizer of the ISGlobal annual scientific retreat.

-Outreach activity: conference for secondary school students. Part of “Dia de la Ciència a les Escoles” (science at schools day) organized by the Catalan government.

-Two new PhD students started working in the team this year, with fellowships from AGAUR (Catalan Government, FI fellowship) and Marie Curie - Erasmus Mundus (European Union, TransGlobalHealth fellowship).