Supervisors: John Parkinson
Registered in: Department of Molecular Genetics (entered GBB program in July 2009)
Description of Research Project
The Apicomplexa is a large phylum of unicellular eukaryotes, from which a number of medically relevant parasites are members. More specifically, species from the genuses Plasmodium, Toxoplasma, and Cryptosporidium are the etiological agents of the most common diseases caused by apicomplexans which are malaria, toxoplasmosis, and cryptosporidiosis, respectively. Currently, there is a lack of effective vaccines or treatments against many apicomplexans, and the increasing prevalence of drug resistant strains has stressed the urgency to develop novel drug therapies.
To meet these global health care challenges, several international consortia have generated vast amounts of sequence data, offering opportunities to gain insight into apicomplexans through in silico analyses. Information from the genome sequences combined with proteome, transcriptome, and other high-throughput datasets are being exploited to better understand apicomplexan biology. Our current knowledge on apicomplexan metabolism has revealed a number of pathways specific to the phylum, but for which many enzymes have not yet been elucidated. Due to selection pressures associated with surviving in an obligate host, these enzymes are either absent from the parasite, or present in the parasite and have evolved to be highly divergent from the host organism. To answer key questions concerning the evolution and conservation of apicomplexan parasites, I aim to apply comparative network analyses to identify parasite-specific enzymes that are critical for survival and up-regulated during stages of parasite growth and infection. These represent adaptations of the parasite to persist in the host and are important targets for therapeutic intervention.