Alfred Cortés

Alfred Cortés

Institut de Salut Global Barcelona

Life & Medical Sciences

After obtaining a PhD for research on fruitfly DNA binding proteins (CID-CSIC, Barcelona), he started 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 joined the MRC-NIMR (London) as a postdoc for two years and a half to study gene expression and invasion of erythrocytes by malaria parasites. In 2006 he moved to IRB Barcelona with an ICREA junior contract. In 2011 he joined CRESIB-ISGlobal as a group leader, and in 2012 he was appointed ICREA Research Professor. The research of his team at ISGlobal focuses on the regulation of gene expression in malaria parasites, mainly on the mechanisms and functions of epigenetic variation, and on the transcriptional regulation of specific processes such as sexual conversion.

Research interests

The central research interest of my team is epigenetic variation in Plasmodium falciparum, i.e. heritable differences between genetically identical parasites that result in transcriptional and phenotypic variation. We study the chromatin-based mechanisms involved in the epigenetic regulation of variantly expressed genes, and the role of epigenetic variation in the adaptation of parasite populations to changes in their environment. We combine genome-wide approaches with studies on specific variantly expressed genes that control important processes in parasite biology. Among these, we are especially interested in the genes that regulate solute uptake and sexual conversion. Regarding the latter, one of our current research priorities is understanding how some asexually-growing parasites “decide” to convert into sexual forms, which are necessary for malaria transmission. We also investigate the transcriptional response underlying parasite survival at febrile temperatures.

Selected publications

- Llorà-Batlle O, Michel-Todó L, Witmer K, Toda H, Fernández-Becerra C, Baum J & Cortés A 2020, “Conditional expression of PfAP2-G for controlled massive sexual conversion in Plasmodium falciparum”, Science Advances 6 (24): eaaz5057.

- Portugaliza HP, Miyazaki S, Geurten FJ, Pell C, Rosanas-Urgell A, Janse CJ & Cortes A 2020, "Artemisinin exposure at the ring or trophozoite stage impacts Plasmodium falciparum sexual conversion differently", Elife 9:e60058.

Selected research activities

-Organizer of BioMalPar XVI (Biology & Pathology of the Malaria Parasite), an EMBL conference (together with Samuel Wassmer at LSHTM, UK, and Silvia Portugal at University of Heidelberg, Germany). The conference was run in a virtual format because of the COVID-19 situation.

- Finalist (one of three finalists) in the Article of the year award from the Catalan Society for Biology (SCB) for the article Bancells et al., & Cortés, Nat. Microbiol. 4:144-54, 2019.

-New grant awarded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (RETOS grant), 2020-2023. Title of the project: “Transcriptional regulation of adaptation and developmental decisions in malaria parasites: from epigenetic variation to directed transcriptional responses”.

- PhD thesis under my supervision completed: Harvie P. Portugaliza, Universitat de Barcelona, December 2020.

-Invited conference at the “Chromatin and epigenetics day” of the Catalan Society for Biology, Barcelona, 2020. Title: “Adaptation of malaria parasites to changes in their environment: epigenetics in motion?”.