The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital


Research Projects

Project: Insights into the evolution of variant antigen gene recombinants of Plasmodium falciparum in high transmission

Day group

Plasmodium falciparum, the pathogen causing the most virulent form of malaria, continues to present a significant economic and public health burden globally. The pathogen’s major variant surface antigen of the blood stages, known as P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1) undergoes clonal antigenic variation to switch surface antigens on the infected erythrocyte, thereby evading the host immune system and allowing the parasite to persist in the human host for many months. PfEMP1 is encoded by the var multigene family, with each parasite possessing up to approximately 60 var genes. Given that repertoires and genes diversify by recombination, looking at local populations is key to understanding the evolution of these immune evasion genes in the natural world. A scalable approach in epidemiological studies has been to use a small conserved region encoding the immunogenic DBLα domain (i.e., DBLα tags) as a marker to estimate var diversity. The Day Lab has generated DBLα tag sequences from longitudinally-sampled isolates in a local area of high malaria transmission. The overall aims of this project are to develop and apply mathematical/statistical algorithms to identify DBLα recombinants in longitudinal surveys (pre-, during- and post-intervention) and to employ bioinformatic methods to investigate the evolution of these antigen genes in relation to an intervention in a local area with high malaria transmission.

Project site: Bio21 Institute

Contact project supervisor for further
information and application enquiries

Project Supervisor

Professor Karen Day

Project Co-supervisor

Dr Mun Hua Tan
Dr Yao-Ban Chan

Project availability

Day group

8 vacancies

Bacterial and Parasitic Infections
Cross Cutting Disciplines
Computational Science and Genomics
Global Health
Public Health

Professor Karen Day runs a multidisciplinary malaria research group that utilises molecular epidemiology to study the role that variation in human, parasite, and vector genomes plays in modulating transmission dynamics of Plasmodium spp. She is also interested in cell-to-cell communication in malaria parasites to alter population behaviour. She has a strong track record in interdisciplinary training of the next generation of infectious disease epidemiologists.