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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 that secures parasite survival at febrile temperatures.

Selected publications

– E. Tintó-Font, L. Michel-Todó, T.J. Russell, N. Casas-Vila, D.J. Conway, Z. Bozdech, M. Llinás & A. Cortés, 2021, “A heat-shock response regulated by the PfAP2-HS transcription factor protects human malaria parasites from febrile temperatures”, Nat. Microbiol. 6:1163-74.

– A.K. Pickford, L. Michel-Todó, F. Dupuy, A. Mayor, P.L. Alonso, C. Lavazec & A. Cortés, 2021, “Expression patterns of Plasmodium falciparum clonally variant genes at the onset of a blood infection in malaria-naive humans”, mBio 12:e01636-21.

– N. Casas-Vila, A.K. Pickford, H.P. Portugaliza, E. Tintó-Font & A. Cortés, 2021, “Transcriptional analysis of tightly synchronized Plasmodium falciparum intraerythrocytic stages by RT-qPCR”, Methods Mol. Biol. 2369:165-185. Published as chapter 10 of the book “Parasite Genomics” (Springer), ISBN: 978-1-0716-1681-9.

Selected research activities

PhD thesis under my supervision completed: Anastasia K. Pickford, Universitat de Barcelona, December 2020. Title: Characterisation of the role of epigenetic variation in the adaptation of malaria parasites to changes in the conditions of the human host.

-One new PhD student (fellowship from the Spanish Government) and two new postdocs started working in the team.

-Our article in Nat. Microbiol. was highlighted in the journal’s News & Views (“Malaria parasite beats the heat”, by V. Thathy and D. A. Fidock).

Invited talk at the JITMM 2021 conference (Bankog, Thailand. Because of the covid situation, the conference was run in a virtual format).

Invited talk at the Special Crick/LSHTM London Molecular Parasitology Club meeting in honour of Tony Holder’s scientific career (London, UK).

ICREA Memoir 2021