Alfred Cortés

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

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 genes, and how transcriptional variation results in phenotypic variation and contributes to parasite adaptation to changes in the environment. We combine genome-wide studies with studies on specific clonally variant genes that control important processes in parasite biology. Among these, we are especially interested in the regulation of solute uptake and sexual conversion, which is necessary for malaria transmission. More recently, we started investigating the transcriptional changes that mediate parasite survival at febrile temperatures.

Selected publications

– Bancells C, Llora-Batile O, Poran A, Notzel C, Rovira-Graells N, Elemento O, Kafsack BFC & Cortes A 2019, ‘Revisiting the initial steps of sexual development in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum‘, Nature Microbiology, 4 (1), 144 – 54.

– Mira-Martinez S, Pickford AK, Rovira-Graells N, Guetens P, Tinto-Font E & Cortes A*, Rosanas-Urgell A* 2019, ‘Identification of Antimalarial Compounds That Require CLAG3 for Their Uptake by Plasmodium falciparum-Infected Erythrocytes’, Antimicrobial Agents And Chemotherapy, 63, 5, e00052-19. *Equal contribution

– Portugaliza HP, Llora-Batlle O, Rosanas-Urgell A & Cortes A 2019, ‘Reporter lines based on the gexp02 promoter enable early quantification of sexual conversion rates in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum’, Scientific Reports, 9, 14595.

– Ralph, SA.; Cortes, A 2019, ‘Plasmodium sexual differentiation: how to make a female’, Molecular Microbiology, 112 (6), 1627-1631.

– Llorà-Batlle O; Tintó-Font E; Cortés A 2019, ‘Transcriptional Variation in Malaria Parasites: Why and How‘, Briefings in Functional Genomics, 18 (5), 329-341.

Selected research activities

-New grant awarded by “La Caixa Health Research”. Title of the project: “Dissecting the initial molecular events that trigger sexual conversion and transmission in malaria parasites”

-Supervision of two completed and defended PhD Thesis: Elisabet Tintó (UB, “Identification of PfAP2-HS as the master regulator of the heat shock response in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum”) and Oriol Llorà-Batlle (UPF, “Characterization of sexual commitment and the early steps of sexual development in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum”)

-Appointed as organizer of the EMBL conference “BioMalPar XV: Biology and Pathology of the Malaria Parasite”, to be held in Heidelberg (Germany) in May 2020.

-Invited conferences at University of Glasgow (UK) and University of Heidelberg (Germany).