Scheme: University Research Fellowship
Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Dates: Oct 2012-Feb 2019
Summary: Parasites are engaged in a life-and-death struggle with their hosts. Research in my lab asks “what makes a successful parasites” and “what limits their success”? We work at the interface of infectious disease and evolutionary ecology and are motivated by two aims. First, parasites present a novel testing ground to examine the explanatory power of evolutionary theories developed to explain the biology of multicellular organisms. Second, a better understanding of the basic biology of parasites is required to prevent evolution from undermining efforts to control infectious diseases. Our research focuses on malaria parasites, a group of organisms that cause some of the most serious infectious diseases of humans, livestock, and wildlife.
An important feature of parasite lifestyles is that their environments change constantly. Parasite genotypes exhibit phenotypic plasticity, the capacity to alter phenotype in response to the environment, which enables them to maintain fitness under variable environmental conditions. My work has revealed that parasites have considerably more sophisticated strategies for survival and transmission than previously thought. Understanding plasticity in parasite traits and determining whether this variation is beneficial for parasite fitness is important for biomedicine. It can allow parasites to evade the effects of drugs and vaccines on very short timescales but could offer novel disease intervention targets