The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

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


Research Projects

Project: Bioinformatic investigation of diversity of the variant antigen genes of Plasmodium falciparum in low and 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 is endemic across many resource-poor countries in tropical Africa and parts of Asia, and is re-emerging in Latin America. The pathogen’s success in remaining highly prevalent in many regions can be attributed to the extreme diversity of the major variant surface antigen of the blood stages, known as P. falciparum erythrocyte membrane protein 1 (PfEMP1). This molecule 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 and each parasite possesses up to approximately 60 var genes. Genome sequencing has shown that each parasite carries a different var gene repertoire. Bioinformatic analysis of the diversity and population structure of the var genes encoding PfEMP1 is critical for surveillance and prevention of malaria as well as for the design of any variant-specific vaccine targeting PfEMP1 based on an understanding of local herd immunity. In addition to a wide collection of publicly-available sequence datasets of var and P. falciparum, the Day Lab has also generated sequences from longitudinally-sampled isolates in a local area of high malaria transmission. The overall aims of this project are to employ bioinformatic and population genetic methods to investigate the diversity and geographic population structure of these genes to better understand the evolution of these genes in the context of ancient diversity and human migration in this era of globalisation.

Project site: Bio21 Institute

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information and application enquiries

Project Supervisor

Professor Karen Day

Project Co-supervisor

Dr Mun Hua Tan

Project availability
Master of Biomedical Science

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.