Malaria is a devastating disease and the human suffering and economic losses in largely already poor countries are unquestioned. Currently, no effective vaccines are available and drug-resistance is wide-spread and fast to emerge. You will find plenty of information on the internet regarding the disease, current intervention strategies, or the complex life cycle of this parasite, which requires mosquitoes for sexual replication and to spread from one individual to another. However, it is far less well known that the malaria parasite is also a captivating, unique, and extremely useful model organism that allows us to study general principles of molecular and cell biology as well as unique parasite-specific features. Furthermore, it serves as a great model to study evolution, both through rapid processes such as immune evasion and the acquisition of drug resistance and through its unusual position in the web of life. Unlike viruses or bacteria, malaria parasites are so-called eukaryotes, just like plants, fungi, animals, and us humans. Within the eukaryotic branch of the web of life, malaria parasites (genus Plasmodium) belong to an ancient family of single-cell infectious organisms, the Apicomplexa. More distant relatives include the dinoflagellates, which are the cause of the red bloom in warm sea water and the ciliates that were among the first microbes observed by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek with his early microscopes.
In my group, we develop and employ tools for larger-scale experimental genetics combined with advanced flow cytometric and microscopical techniques. We use a murine in vivo model and in vitro cultured human malaria parasites for functional profiling throughout the complex life cycle with a particular focus on host transitions. Furthermore, we are increasingly integrating experimental and computational approaches. Thus, we will shed light on fundamental parasite biology during host switching, strengthening the quest for prophylactic and transmission-blocking intervention strategies.
Due to the tight integration of experimental and computational work, my group has strong associations both with the parasitology labs of the Dep. of Medical Microbiology and with the Centre for Molecular and Biomolecular Informatics.