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Dr Catherine J. Merrick

Dr Catherine J. Merrick

Senior University Lecturer

Division of Microbiology and Parasitology

My research focuses on the human malaria parasite, with the goal of improving our understanding of the parasite’s basic biology and the impact of this biology on virulence. I use molecular genetics and cell biology to study this important disease-causing organism.

208, Molteno Building,
Department of Pathology,
Tennis Court Road,
CB2 1QP.

Office Phone: 01223 333330


I studied for my first degree at Cambridge, where I gained a double first in Natural Sciences (Part 2 Pathology) and also participated in the Cold Spring Harbor undergraduate research program.  I then completed a PhD in Cell Biology at Cancer Research UK, before moving to the Harvard School of Public Health where I held a Charles H. Hood postdoctoral fellowship and began to study the epigenetic control of virulence genes in the malaria parasite.  During my postdoc, I also conducted a field study at the MRC Institute in The Gambia, investigating clinical phenotypes and the expression of virulence genes in patients with malaria. 

Upon returning to the UK, I worked briefly as a sub-editor at Nature, then joined the faculty at Keele University where I was a Lecturer and subsequently a Senior Lecturer until spring of 2018.  At Keele I established a research group within the Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology (CAEP), funded by Research Council grants from the MRC and BBSRC.  I also gained my Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education and became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy; I taught undergraduate and graduate courses in parasitology and other areas and was awarded a 'superb supervisor' teaching award by the SU.  I sat on the Council of the British Society for Parasitology for 6 years, 2012-2018, and served as the Hon. Communications Secretary from 2015 to 2018.  In 2018 I moved to a Senior Lectureship at Cambridge, where my research group is currently funded by MRC and ERC consolidator grants. 

Merrick Lab photo 1

Research Interests

My group studies the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.  Research interests are centred around DNA biology, particularly the molecular mechanisms underlying DNA replication and cell cycle control in Plasmodium, which replicates by an unusual method called schizogony.  I am also interested in mechanisms for silencing and promoting the recombination of a family of key virulence genes called var genes - particularly the role that G-quadruplex DNA structures may play in var gene controlVar genes encode the major parasite antigen expressed on infected red blood cells; they are found primarily at sub-telomeric loci and their variant expression is under epigenetic control.  In fact, we have discovered that G-quadruplexes and their helicases have more general roles in genome stability/evolution in the malaria parasite as well.  Finally, I have a long-standing interest in a group of NAD+-dependent deacetylase enzymes called sirtuins which regulate subtelomeric chromatin and virulence gene expression.  My postdoctoral work linked the Plasmodium falciparum sirtuins to particular patterns of var gene expression and to severe malaria in human patients.

Merrick lab malaria parasitesMerrick Lab photo 2

Merrick lab news and events

Merrick lab photo 5Fully-funded PhD studentship available in the lab for autumn 2019!  Apply now!

As part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, Drs Merrick and Dumetz participated in a debate held at the Law Faculty on whether humans have the right to exterminate parasites.  The 40+ audience was split almost evenly on the motion, but preserving parasites won by a 1-vote margin!

Dr Franck Dumetz has successfully applied to join Trinity Hall MCR with a postdoctoral research associateship.

Dr Merrick has been speaking about the lab's work on G-quadruplexes at the International Symposium on 'Biology of non-canonical nucleic acids: from humans to pathogens' in late September in Italy.

Dr Chun Kit Kwok spent 2 weeks visiting the lab in August on a Royal Society Kan Tong Po fellowship.  This scheme encourages collaborative work between UK and Hong Kong universities: in this case, an ongoing project to investigate RNA secondary structures in P. falciparum.  The work forms part of our current MRC-funded project on G-quadruplex biology in malaria parasites.  Drs Kwok and Merrick (pictured here with the PDRA on this project, Dr Dumetz) recently published a review article in Trends in Biotechnology: G-quadruplexes: prediction, characterization, and biological application

Dr Merrick has been invited to join the editorial board of the journal Scientific Reports from July 2018.

Dr Merrick was an invited speaker at the recent Global Research Excellence Symposium at  the Centre for Medical Parasitology, Copenhagen (June 2018).  She discussed her work on RecQ helicases in Plasmodium falciparum, which was published on July 2nd in Plos Genetics.  Pictured here outside the CMP with collaborators Thomas Otto (Glasgow University) and Antoine Claessens (Montpellier University), who is a first author on the Plos Genetics paper.Merrick Lab photo 4

Keele SU Student-Led Teaching Award for 'Superb Supervisor' goes to Dr Merrick

Dr Merrick attends Thai Workshop on Infectious Diseases

ERC Consolidator Grant awarded to Dr Merrick

PhD student Linda Anagu to compete in 'I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here!'

Article by Dr Merrick featured by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation

Research Supervision

Please contact me by email if you are interested in PhD or postdoctoral work in my group. 

A fully-funded PhD studentship is available in the lab for autumn 2019: Apply now!

If other funded positions are available, they will be advertised here, and I am happy to discuss possible projects for fellowship applications with qualified candidates. 

Current lab members:

  • Dr Jennifer McDonald, postdoc, from July 2018
  • Dr Francis Totanes, postdoc, from July 2018
  • Dr Franck Dumetz, postdoc, from Aug 2018
  • Anders Jensen, technician, from July 2018
  • Linda Onyeka Anagu, PhD student based at Keele University, Oct 2015-2019
  • Lydia Roberts, undergraduate student 2018-19

Previous lab members:

  • Technicians
  • 2017-2018: Dr Lisa Rump
  • PhD students
  • 2012-2016: Dr Ashley J. Jordan (next destination: postdoc at Institut Laue-Langevin Grenoble).
  • Masters students
  • 2015-16: Pamela Veneziano Broccia, MSc ERASMUS student from Siena University (next destination: PhD student in Trieste). 
  • 2015-16: Scott Judkins, MSc in Molecular Parasitology and Vector Biology.
  • 2014-15: Katelyn Monsell, intercalated MPhil in research (next destination: completing medical training at Keele Medical School).
  • 2013-14: Rinal Sahputra, MSc in Molecular Parasitology and Vector Biology with Merit (next destination: PhD student at Manchester). 
  • 2013-14: Ethan Beale, MSc in Scientific Research Training at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. 
  • 2012-13: Adriana Adolfi, MSc in Molecular Parasitology and Vector Biology with Distinction and Hugh Mulligan Prize (next destinations: PhD student at LSTM, postdoc at UC Irvine). 
  • 2012-13: Molly Gorman, MSc in Scientific Research Training with Distinction at the Pasteur Institute in Paris (next destination: completing medical training at Keele Medical School).
  • Undergraduates
  • 2016-17: Liam Cole, Maria Maroszek, Ubaidu Dikko.
  • 2015-16: Charlie Hanmer-Lloyd (Applied Life Sciences placement at the Pasteur Institute in Paris).
  • 2014-15: Sonia Hussein; Dan Harris (Applied Life Sciences placement at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, next destination: PhD student at Glasgow); Brynn Young (Wellcome Trust Vacation Scholarship, next destination: MSc at Keele); Gemma Graham (Keele Medical School SSC placement).
  • 2013-14: Ben Hopkins (Applied Life Sciences placement at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, next destination: PhD student at Leeds); Peter Clegg (Keele Medical School SSC placement).
  • 2012-13: Gemma Williams (Wellcome Trust Vacation Scholarship, next destination: Medical Technical Officer at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital); Kiran Riasat (next destination: MSc at Keele); Claire Flavell, Rebecca Jarrom, Joshua Watkins, Mengwu Yu.
  • 2011-12: Samantha Holmes, Samantha Morrey, Victoria Allin, Emma Crisp.

Merrick Lab photo 3

Lab members at Keele University

Key Publications

'RecQ helicases in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum affect genome stability, gene expression patterns and DNA replication dynamics.’
Claessens, A., Harris, L.M., Stanojcic, S., Chappell, L., Stanton, A., Kuk, N., Veneziano-Broccia, P., Sterkers, Y., Rayner, J.C., Merrick, C.J. Plos Genetics (2018).

'Checks and Balances? DNA replication and the cell cycle in Plasmodium.' (REVIEW)
Matthews, H., Duffy C.W., Merrick, C.J. Invited review, Parasites & Vectors doi:10.1186/s13071-018-2800-1 (2018).

'ATAC-ing transcriptional mysteries in malaria parasites.’
Merrick, C.J. Preview article, Cell Host & Microbe doi:10.1016/j.chom.2018.03.016 (2018).

'G-quadruplex DNA motifs in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum and their potential as novel antimalarial drug targets.'
Harris, L.M., Monsell, K., Noulin, F., Famodimu, M.T., Smargiasso, N., Damblon, C., Horrocks, P., Merrick, C.J.  Antimicrobial Agents & Chemotherapy

'Perspectives in Parasitology: Plasmodium falciparum.'
Merrick, C.J.  Emerging Topics in Life Sciences 'Perspectives in Parasitology' issue 1(6) 517-523 doi:10.1042/ETLS20170099 (2017).

'Single-molecule Analysis Reveals that DNA Replication Dynamics Vary Across the Course of Schizogony in the Malaria Parasite Plasmodium falciparum.'
Stanojcic, S., Kuk, N., Ullah, I., Sterkers, Y., Merrick, C.J.  Scientific Reports 7:4003 doi:10.1038/s41598-017-04407-z (2017).

'G-quadruplexes: prediction, characterization, and biological application.' (REVIEW)
Kwok, C.K. and Merrick, C.J.  Trends in Biotechnology (2017).

'Recombination events among virulence genes in malaria parasites are associated with G-quadruplex-forming DNA motifs.'
Stanton, A., Harris, L.M., Graham, G., Merrick, C.J.  BMC Genomics 17:859 doi:10.1186/s12864-016-3183-3 (2016).

'SEC-SANS: Size Exclusion Chromatography Combined In Situ With Small Angle Neutron Scattering.'
Jordan, A., Jacques, M., Merrick, C.J., Devos, J., Forsyth, V.T., Porcar, L., Martel, A.  Journal of Applied Crystallography 49 (2016).

'Transfection with thymidine kinase permits bromodeoxyuridine labelling of DNA replication in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.'
Merrick, C.J. Malaria Journal 14:490. doi: 10.1186/s12936-015-1014-7 (2015).

'G-quadruplexes in pathogens: a common route to virulence control?' (REVIEW)
Harris, L.M. and Merrick, C.J. PLoS Pathogens 11(2):e1004562. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004562 (2015).

'Functional analysis of sirtuin genes in multiple Plasmodium falciparum strains.’
Merrick, C.J.,
Jiang, H. R., Skillman, K.M., Samarakoon, U., Moore, R.M., Dzikowski, R., Ferdig, M.T., Duraisingh M.T.  PlosOne 10(3):e0118865. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118865 (2015).

'A quantitative analysis of Plasmodium falciparum transfection using DNA-loaded erythrocytes.'
Hasenkamp, S., Merrick, C.J., Horrocks, P.  Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology 187(2), 117-120 (2013).

‘Epigenetic dysregulation of virulence gene expression in severe Plasmodium falciparum malaria.’
Merrick, C.J.,
Huttenhower, C., Buckee, C.O., Amambua-Ngwa, A., Gomez-Escobar, N.,Walther, M., Conway, D.J., Duraisingh M.T.  Journal of Infectious Diseases, 205(10), 1593-1600 (2012).

‘Plasmodium Epigenetics: What do we really know?’ (REVIEW)
Merrick, C.J. and Duraisingh, M.T.  Eukaryot Cell, 9(8), 1150-8 (2010).

‘The effect of Plasmodium falciparum Sir2a histone deacetylase on clonal and longitudinal variation in expression of the var family of virulence genes.’
Merrick, C.J., Dzikowski, R., Imamura, H., Chuang, J., Deitsch, K., Duraisingh, M.T. Int. J.Parasitol. 40, 35-43 (2010).

Plasmodium falciparum Sir2: An unusual sirtuin with dual histone deacetylase and ADP-ribosyltransferase activity.’
Merrick, C.J. and Duraisingh, M.T.  Eukaryot Cell, 6(11), 2081-2091 (2007).

‘Heterochromatin-mediated control of virulence gene expression.’ (REVIEW)    
Merrick, C.J. and Duraisingh, M.T.  Mol Microbiol. 62(3), 612-20 (2006).

‘Functional Analysis of Avr9/Cf-9 Rapidly Elicited Genes Identifies a Protein Kinase, ACIK1, that is Essential for Full Cf-9-Dependent Disease Resistance in Tomato.’
Rowland, O., Ludwig, A.A., Merrick, C.J., Baillieul, F., Tracy, F., Durrant, W.E., Fitz-Laylin, L., Nekrasov, V., Yoshioka, H. and Jones, J.D.G.  Plant Cell 17(1), 295-310 (2005).

‘Visualisation of altered replication dynamics after DNA damage in human cells.’  
Merrick, C.J., Jackson, D. and Diffley, J.F.X.  J.Biol.Chem. 279, 20067-20075 (2004).


Online media _________________________________________________________________

'Rinse and repeat: can mosquito passage ‘reset’ malaria parasites?' Review of Spence et al. Plos Pathogens 2015.
Merrick, C.J. Bugbitten blog of Parasites & Vectors, Aug 2015

'Taking turns: how Plasmodium changes its spots.' Review of Zhang et al. Nature 2014.
Edwards-Smallbone, J. and Merrick, C.J. Bugbitten blog of Parasites & Vectors, Aug 2014.

'Throwing the switch: gametocytogenesis in malaria parasites.' Review of Kafsack et al. & Sinha at al. Nature 2014.
Horrocks, P. and Merrick, C.J. Bugbitten blog of Parasites & Vectors, Apr 2014.

'Malaria virulence genes: Complex control.’ Review of Volz et al. Cell Host & Microbe, 2012.
Merrick, C.J. British Society for Parasitology online journal club, Feb 2012.

 ‘Malaria: An old but pressing problem
Merrick, C.J.  SITN-Flash (Newsletter of the Harvard ‘Science In The News’ Network) World AIDS Day Special Issue on Infectious Diseases, Dec 1 2010.


Science Writing for the General Public ____________________________________________

‘A Scientist for all Seasons’ (A review of E.O Wilson’s ‘Biophilia’)
Merrick, C.J.   Slightly Foxed, Summer 2014 issue.

‘Adventures in achromatopsia’ (A review of Oliver Sacks’s ‘The Island of The Colourblind’)
Merrick, C.J.   Slightly Foxed, Spring 2013 issue.

‘Honest Jim and the double helix’ (A review of James Watson’s ‘The Double Helix’)
Merrick, C.J.   Slightly Foxed, Autumn 2011 issue.

‘Biophilia for beginners’ (A review of Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’)
Merrick, C.J.   Slightly Foxed, Spring 2011 issue.

‘Tuberculosis: Fighting the Great White Plague.’
Merrick, C.J.  Biological Sciences Review, 21(3), 2009.