Taco Kooij is a “young” molecular/cellular parasitologist with a broad interest in the biology and evolution of apicomplexan parasites and their intimate relationships with their hosts. He is particularly interested in how malaria parasite (Plasmodium) biology has adapted to facilitate the switching between vertebrate and mosquito hosts. He leads the molecular parasitology team of the Nijmegen malaria research group. In addition to hosting interns in the lab and contributing to several courses, he co-ordinates and teaches the master specialisation course “Molecular Parasitology”. On Tuesdays, he is active as an elected member of the works council representing the employees with a focus on research and education. His biggest passion is working with truly young talent guiding them during their professional development together exploring the peculiar biology of the malaria parasite.
“Among the most satisfying aspects of parasitology research are the interdisciplinary nature and the opportunities to combine fundamental and translational research. My foremost interest has always been the mystifying and mesmerizing biology of the malaria parasite and how it evolved to cope with the rapid changing conditions during host switching. I am convinced that these transition stages are the most formidable and desirable targets to achieve malaria elimination. With my research, I aim to illuminate these bottlenecks in the complex Plasmodium life cycle and use these insights to develop novel intervention strategies.”
To achieve this, his team, employs in vivo and in vitro models combined with state-of-the-art experimental genetic approaches and advanced microscopical, flow cytometric, and “omics” techniques, integrating experimental and computational approaches. Since starting his lab at the Radboudumc, his research has focussed on three main topics:
(1) identifying new vaccine targets and the development of a potent and safe live genetically attenuated whole-parasite vaccine;
(2) mechanisms of action of and resistance to transmission-blocking antimalarials; and
(3) malaria parasite fertility and transmission, with a particular focus on mitochondrial and apicoplast biology.
After studying chemistry at Utrecht University and the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow), he finished his PhD (cum laude) at the Leiden University Medical Centre on a comparative genome analysis of malaria parasites. The next 10 years, he studied a variety of molecular and cellular biological aspects of malaria parasites at the University of Oxford and the National Blood Service, the Heidelberg University School of Medicine (on an EMBO long-term fellowship), and finally the Max-Planck-Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. In 2014, he was awarded an NWO-ALW Vidi grant, which facilitated his return to the Netherlands and in 2018 he was elected as an EMBO Young Investigator. At the Radboudumc in Nijmegen, he aims to unravel the functioning of the malaria parasite endosymbiotic organelles, the mitochondrion and apicoplast, particularly during host-switching, medium-scale experimental genetic tools tightly integrated with cutting edge computational and molecular/cell biological approaches.
- Editorial Board Member for Scientific Reports
12/2022 – 12/2026 Radboudumc Individual PhD for Masters: ‘Follow the drug: unravelling specificity and activity of antimalarial pantothenamides’, €240k, role: PI.
12/2022 – 12/2026 Radboudumc Individual PhD for Masters: ‘“It’s a match!”: uncovering the functions of sexual‐stage malaria parasite vaccine targets’, €240k, role: co-PI.
03/2020 – 02/2024 RIMLS Junior Researcher (PhD) Round 2019: ‘Functional characterization of unique parasite-specific mitochondrial carrier proteins (RIMLS018-009b)’, €240k, role: PI.
01/2020 – 12/2025 Radboudumc junior Principal Investigator Predicate, €300k, role: PI.
12/2019 – 12/2023 Radboudumc Individual PhD for Masters: ‘Shedding a super-resolution light on mitochondrial fission during schizogony in human malaria parasites’, €240k, role: PI. 01/2017 – 12/2022 European Commission H2020 program: ‘Optimalvax: Optimizing a deployable high efficacy malaria vaccine’, €3,3M, role: co-P
01/2019 – 12/2019 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation small project grant: ‘Priorization of malaria drug discovery programs based on transmission capacity of resistance mechanisms (OPP1197007)’, $139k, role: co-PI.
05/2018 – 04/2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Career Restart Action, co-applicant and host for Individual Fellowship of NI Proellochs: ‘Characterisation of the Plasmodium PHIST protein family (790085)’, €178k, role: PI.
01/2017 – 12/2019 Radboudumc junior Principal Investigator Predicate, €195k, role: PI.
08/2016 – 08/2020 RIMLS Junior Researcher (PhD) Round 2015: ‘Targeting Plasmodium falciparum Coenzyme-A biosynthesis for clinical development of novel selective antimalarials (RIMLS015-010)’, €240k, role: PI.
09/2014 – 12/2021 NWO-ALW Vidi Grant: ‘Unravelling the Plasmodium mitochondrion: systematic functional characterization of an essential organelle for anti-malarial drug target identification (864.13.009).’ €800k, role: PI.
05/2012 – 08/2014 MPG Forschungsstipendium: ‘Entwicklung neuer molekularbiologischer und genetischer Strategien für eine Hochdurchsatzanalyse van Plasmodium Mutanten und ihren Funktionen.’ €84k, role: senior post-doctoral fellow.
10/2010 – 03/2014 EVIMalaR PhD project: ‘Systematic functional analysis of orphan Plasmodium membrane proteins.’ €80k, role: co-PI.
05/2009 – 04/2012 MPG Fortbildungsstipendium: ‘Functional analysis of evolutionary expanded gene families in apicomplexan parasites.’ €83k, role: post-doctoral fellow.
05/2007 – 04/2009 EMBO Long-Term Fellowship: ‘Functional analysis of an apicomplexan-specific kinase family (ALTF 763-2006).’ €63k, role: post-doctoral fellow. I had to decline NWO-ALW Rubicon (825.06.039) and Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowships on the same project.
Awards & prizes
2018 EMBO Young Investigator 2019-2022.
2008 Merial Award for Parasitology, awarded by the board of the Netherlands Society for Parasitology (NVP) and Merial B.V., €3k.
2003 Poster prize: ‘Frankenstein Genomics in Plasmodium: Synteny between Rodent and Human Malaria Genomes’ Molecular Parasitology Meeting XIV, Woods Hole, USA, $250.
Awards & prizes of team members
2022 Laura de Vries – Westerdijk award 2022 for best thesis in medical microbiology (KNVM/NVMM).
2022 Felix Evers – RIMLS Award for the Best Publication of 2021.
2020 Julie Verhoef – 3 institutional and 1 national master thesis awards: RIMLS Award for the best Master Thesis of 2019, Radboudumc Masterprijs, Radboud Universitaire Studieprijs, and the Dr. Saal van Swanenberg prize (2nd place) for best master thesis in pharmaceutical or medical sciences focusing on drug development at the Koninklijke Hollandse Maatschappij der Wetenschap (KHMW).