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Research interests

Malaria

The causative agent of severe malaria in humans, Plasmodium falciparum, facilitates immune evasion by extensive antigenic diversity. Mutation and recombination have resulted in a highly diverse collection of pathogenic types and sub-types that co-circulate within a community. Even during the course of a single infection, P. falciparum escapes detection and destruction by the immune system by displaying an enormous variety of antigenic variants.

Haemoglobin disorders

Haemoglobin disorders are amongst the commonest human genetic diseases worldwide. They represent a unique and fascinating example of balancing selection because of the resistance conferred against malaria by some variants of these disorders. Moreover, it is expected that they will represent an increasing public health and economic burden, both in low-/middle- and high-income countries, due to the epidemiological transition and to migrations respectively. Our research combines mapping and modelling methodologies to study a range of basic and applied questions.

Bacterial pathogens

Our work on bacterial pathogens focuses mainly on Neisseria meningitidis which is a frequent commensal of the human nasopharynx but occasionally gives rise to meningitis and septicaemia. In industrialised countries, carriage rates are approximately 10% for the population as a whole, with the highest rates in young adults, approaching 35%. N. meningitidis may be stratified into serogroups on the basis of their polysaccharide capsule, which surrounds the outer membrane and acts as a target for mucosal and humoral immunity.

Viral pathogens

RNA viruses are incapable of correcting the frequent mistakes that occur during viral replication. The net result is the generation of an enormous amount of genetic diversity within a population of replicating RNA viruses. This genetic flexibility can allow RNA viruses to alter their antigens and thus overcome challenges posed by the immune system or drug therapy interventions, provided the targeted residues can tolerate escape-enabling change.

Coevolution

Coevolution between hosts and their parasites has been proposed as a fundamental driver of diversity and is believed to be necessary for the evolution and maintenance of a wide array of biological phenomena including sex and local adaptation.