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. At the malaria epigenetics lab we study the chromatin-based mechanisms involved in the epigenetic regulation of clonally variant gene expression in malaria parasites. Another major interest of the lab is characterizing how these parasites adapt to changes in their environment, e.g. using stochastic transcriptional variation. We combine studies at a genome-wide level with studies on specific clonally variant genes that control important processes such as solute uptake or sexual conversion. Sexual conversion, which is necessary for malaria transmission, is currently one of our major interests.

Selected publications

-   Ruiz JL, Tena JJ, Bancells C, Cortés A*, Gómez-Skarmeta JL*, Gómez-Díaz E. 2018, 'Characterization of the accessible genome in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum', Nucleic Acids Res. 46(18):9414-9431.  *equal contribution

Selected research activities

- PhD thesis completed: "A new mechanism of antimalarial drug resistance regulated at the epigenetic level”, Sofía Mira-Martínez, thesis defended at UB (Barcelona) / VU (Amsterdam). Scientific supervisors: A. Rosanas-Urgell, A. Cortés.

- New predoctoral fellowship (FPI, Spanish Government) awarded to a student to conduct a PhD in the Malaria Epigenetics Lab (supervisor: A. Cortés). 

- Best oral presentation prize to a PhD student of the team (E. Tintó-Font) at the Molecular Parasitology Meeting (MPM), Woods Hole, USA.