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After obtaining a PhD for work on Drosophila DNA binding proteins (CID-CSIC, Barcelona), he gave a strong turn to his career to apply his molecular biology skills to study malaria parasites. He worked for four years as Head of the Molecular Parasitology lab at the Papua New Guinea IMR, where his research mainly focused on basic malaria parasite biology, but also on epidemiological aspects of the disease.

Back to Europe, he worked for over two years at the MRC-NIMR (London) on epigenetic regulation of gene expression and invasion of erythrocytes by malaria parasites. In 2006 he moved to IRB Barcelona with an ICREA jr contract. In 2011 he joined CRESIB-ISGlobal, and in 2012 he was appointed ICREA Research Professor.

The current research of the ISGlobal Malaria Epigenetics lab (@CortesMalaria) that he directs focuses mainly on epigenetic regulation of gene expression in malaria parasites, but also on other processes regulated at the transcriptional level.

Lines of research

The central research interest of his team (Malaria Epigenetics lab) is epigenetic variation in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, i.e., heritable differences between genetically identical parasites that result in transcriptional and phenotypic variation. They study the chromatin-based mechanisms involved in the epigenetic regulation of variantly expressed genes, and the role of epigenetic variation in the adaptation of parasite populations to changes in their environment.

His research team combines genome-wide approaches with studies on specific variantly expressed genes that control important processes in parasite biology. Among these, they are especially interested in the genes that regulate solute uptake and sexual conversion. Regarding the latter, one of their current research priorities is understanding the regulation of the balance between asexual replication in the same host, associated with disease, and conversion into sexual forms, which are necessary for malaria transmission. They also investigate the transcriptional response underlying parasite survival at febrile temperatures (the heat-shock response). 

Specific lines of research:
  •  Epigenomic and transcriptomic variation
  •  Epigenetic and transcriptional control of sexual conversion
  •  Adaptation of parasites to febrile temperatures
  •  Variation in the expression of genes encoding solute channels (clag3 genes)
  •  Parasite adaptation by bet-hedging strategies

Main publications

  • L. Michel-Todó, C. Bancells, N. Casas-Vila, N. Rovira-Graells, C. Hernández-Ferrer, J.R. González & A. Cortés, 2023, “Patterns of Heterochromatin Transitions Linked to Changes in the Expression of Plasmodium falciparum Clonally Variant Genes”, Microbiol Spectr.11:e0304922.
  • E. Tintó-Font, L. Michel-Todó, T.J. Russell, N. Casas-Vila, D.J. Conway, Z. Bozdech, M. Llinás & A. Cortés, 2021, “A heat-shock response regulated by the PfAP2-HS transcription factor protects human malaria parasites from febrile temperatures”, Nature Microbiology 6:1163-74.
  •  H.P. Portugaliza, S. Miyazaki, F.J. Geurten, C. Pell, A. Rosanas-Urgell, C.J. Janse & A. Cortés, 2020, “Artemisinin exposure at the ring or trophozoite stage impacts Plasmodium falciparum sexual conversion differently”, eLife 9:e60058.
  •  O. Llorà-Batlle, L. Michel-Todó, K. Witmer, H. Toda, C. Fernández-Becerra, J. Baum & A. Cortés, 2020, “Conditional expression of PfAP2-G for controlled massive sexual conversion in Plasmodium falciparum”, Science Advances 6:eaaz5057.
  •  C. Bancells, O. Llorà-Batlle, A. Poran, C. Nötzel, N. Rovira-Graells, O. Elemento, B.F.K. Kafsack & A. Cortés, 2019, “Revisiting the initial steps of sexual development in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum”, Nature Microbiology 4:144-54.
  •  B.F.C. Kafsack, N. Rovira-Graells, T.G. Clark, C. Bancells, V.M. Crowley, S.G. Campino, A.E. Williams, L.G. Drought, D.P. Kwiatkowski, D.A. Baker, A. Cortés & M. Llinás, 2014, “A transcriptional switch underlies commitment to sexual development in malaria parasites”, Nature 507:248-52.
  •  N. Rovira-Graells, A.P. Gupta, E. Planet, V.M. Crowley, S. Mok, L. Ribas de Pouplana, P.R. Preiser, Z. Bozdech & A. Cortés, 2012, “Transcriptional variation in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum”, Genome Research 22:925-38.
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