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), I started to study malaria parasites. I worked for four years as head of the Molecular Parasitology lab at the Papua New Guinea IMR, where my research mainly focused on basic malaria parasite biology, but also on epidemiological aspects of the disease. Back to Europe, I 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 I moved to IRB Barcelona with an ICREA junior contract. In 2011 I joined CRESIB-ISGlobal as a group leader, and in 2012 I was appointed ICREA Research Professor. The research of my 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 and the heat-shock response.

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 that secures parasite survival at febrile temperatures.

Selected publications

– Tintó-Font E & Cortés A 2022, “How a malaria parasite becomes a male“, Nature  612(7940):408-409.

– E Tintó-Font & A Cortés 2022, “Malaria parasites do respond to heat”, Trends Parasitol. 38:435-49. Cover Image

– Portugaliza HP, Natama HM, Guetens P, Rovira-Vallbona E, Somé AM, Millogo A, Ouédraogo DF, Valéa I, Sorgho H, Halidou T, van Hong N, Sitoe A, Varo R, Bassat Q, Cortés A* & Rosanas-Urgell A* 2022, ‘Plasmodium falciparum sexual conversion rates can be affected by artemisinin-based treatment in naturally infected malaria patients‘, EBioMedicine, 83:104198. *equal contribution, co-corresponding authors

Selected research activities

Invited conference at Swiss TPH (Switzerland)

Invited conference at KAUST (Saudi Arabia)

Outreach activity: conference about malaria for a general audience at the Ramon Areces foundation (Madrid)

Outreach activity: talk about malaria for a general audience at CosmoCaixa (Barcelona). This activity was part of the European Researchers’ Night.

Finalist (one of three finalists) in the “Article of the Year” award from the Catalan Society for Biology (SCB), for the article Tintó-Font et al., & Cortés, Nat. Microbiol. 6:1163-74, 2021.

-Two Juan de la Cierva contracts awarded to postdoctoral scientists working in the team: one to Núria Casas Vila (the contract started on January 2022) and one recently awarded to Alba Pérez Cantero (the contract will start in 2023).