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A scientist placing petrie dishes into a machine to study the human malaria parasite

Our Research

The 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.  We are also interested in the roles that G-quadruplex DNA and RNA structures may play in the parasite - for example, in silencing and promoting the recombination of a family of key virulence genes called var geneswhose 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 as influencing transcript expression at the RNA level.  Finally, we have a long-standing interest in epigenetics, particularly in a group of NAD+-dependent deacetylase enzymes called sirtuins which regulate subtelomeric chromatin and virulence gene expression.  Plasmodium falciparum sirtuins are linked to particular patterns of var gene expression and to severe malaria in human patients.

Our Current Projects

  • Cell cycle dynamics in Plasmodium parasites
  • DNA replication and DNA damage responses in Plasmodium
  • Unusual nucleic acid structures – G-quadruplexes – in DNA and RNA of Plasmodium
  • RNA structures in Plasmodium
  • Epigenetics and chromatin in Plasmodium

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 doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1007490 (2018).

'G-quadruplexes: prediction, characterization, and biological application.' (REVIEW)
Kwok, C.K. and Merrick, C.J.  Trends in Biotechnology http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tibtech.2017.06.012 (2017).

'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).

'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).

'Checks and Balances? DNA replication and the cell cycle in Plasmodium.(REVIEW)
Matthews, H., Duffy C.W., Merrick, C.J. Invited review, Parasites & Vectors [http://Your%20personalized%20Share%20Link%20https]doi:10.1186/s13071-018... (2018).