Research - Our Team

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

We recently found that the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum regulates at the epigenetic level the expression of a multitude of genes that participate in host-parasite interactions (clonally variant genes). These genes can be found in either an active or a silenced state, which is clonally transmitted from one generation to the next. 

At the Malaria Epigenetics lab, we study the chromatin-based mechanisms involved in the epigenetic regulation of clonally variant gene expression in malaria parasites. Another major interest of the lab is characterizing how these parasites adapt to changes in their environment, using stochastic transcriptional variation and other mechanisms.

We combine studies at a genome-wide level with studies on specific clonally variant genes that control important processes such as solute uptake or sexual conversion. The epigenetic regulation of sexual conversion, which is necessary for malaria transmission, is currently one of our major interests.

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

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”, Nat. Microbiol. 4:144-54.

S. Mira-Martínez, E. van Schuppen, A. Amambua-Ngwa, E. Bottieau , M. Affara, M. Van Esbroeck, E. Vlieghe, P. Guetens, N. Rovira-Graells, G.P. Gómez-Pérez, P.L. Alonso, U. D’Alessandro, A. Rosanas-Urgell* & A. Cortés*, 2017, “Expression of the Plasmodium falciparum clonally variant clag3 genes in human infections”, J. Infect. Dis. 215: 938-45. [*equal contribution]

N. Rovira-Graells, V.M. Crowley, C. Bancells, S. Mira-Martínez, L. Ribas de Pouplana & A. Cortés, 2015, “Deciphering the principles that govern mutually exclusive expression of Plasmodium falciparum clag3 genes”, Nucleic Acids Res. 43:8243-57.

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.

S. Mira-Martínez, N. Rovira-Graells, V.M. Crowley, L.M. Altenhofen, M. Llinás & A. Cortés, 2013, “Epigenetic switches in clag3 genes mediate blasticidin S resistance in malaria parasites”, Cell Microbiol. 15:1913-23.

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 Res., 22:925-38.