Research Fellows Directory
Dr Bryony Williams
University of Exeter
My research aims to understand how parasites evolve and adapt to invade and take advantage of other cells. I work with microsporidia parasites, which are unusual in having a small complement of genes and proteins (Just 2000 genes compared to a human’s 30’000). Despite this genetic simplicity they are highly adapted and specialised to living inside animal cells and cause a range of effects on their host cell environment.
In the lab we are looking at the small pool of proteins that exist in the microsporidian cell and trying to determine which are involved in the infection process and which may be being sent out of the parasite to alter the host cell environment. To do this we are taking environmental samples of microsporidia from different animals and sequencing their genomes. This gives us the gene sequences for the complement of proteins present in different microsporidian parasites. We are comparing which proteins are present and predicted to be sent out of the parasite into the host in species of microsporidia infecting different animal hosts. Identified secreted proteins are being studied to determine where they act in the host cell, and which components of the host cell they bind to in order to understand how they alter the host cell environment.
Whilst this research aims to understand basic aspects of how certain microsporidian species infect their host, we aim to increase understanding of microsporidian infection generally. This is important as many economically damaging species of microsporidia are difficult to culture and obtain in large quantities for lab-based research. These include species such as Enterocytozoon bienuesi, which is one of the most common causes of AIDS-related diarrhea and Nosema ceranae which contributes to honeybee colony collapse disorder and threatens the health of one of our most valuable food plant pollinators.
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