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.
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.