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

Our Research

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 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 genes, whose 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.  I have a long-standing interest in epigenetics: my postdoctoral work focussed on a group of deacetylase enzymes called sirtuins which regulate subtelomeric chromatin and virulence gene expression, and are linked to severe malaria in human patients.  We are now studying other epigenetic pathways in Plasmodium, including the novel phenomenon of histone lactylation.

Alongside our research, we are actively involved in science communication, including school visits and participation in the annual Cambridge Festival.  Our latest public engagement project can be found here (website) or as a podcast here: 'We Shall Not Cease From Exploration - The Poetry of Research'.

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

'Replication origin mapping in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum
Totanes, F.I.G., Gockel, J., Chapman, S.E., Bartfai, R., Boemo, M.A.*, Merrick, C.J.* Nucleic Acids Research (2023).

‘DNA replication dynamics during erythrocytic schizogony in the malaria parasites Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium knowlesi
McDonald, J., Merrick, C.J.  Plos Pathogens,
18(6): e1010595. (2022).

'G-quadruplex RNA motifs influence gene expression in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum
Dumetz, F.*, Chow, E.Y.*, Harris, L.M., Umar, M.I., Jensen, A., Chung, B., Chan, T.F.*, Merrick, C.J.*, Kwok, C.K*. Nucleic Acids Research (2021).

Key reviews:

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

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



Professor Catherine J. Merrick

Principal Investigator


Dr Holly Craven
Research Associate

Dr Francis Totanes
Research Associate


Dr Ibtissam Jabre
Postdoctoral researcher

Haddijatou Mbye
Postdoctoral researcher


Juliana Naldoni
Laboratory Technician

Nana Andoh
Postdoctoral researcher


Monique Johnson
PhD Student


Megan Armstrong
PhD Student




Lewis Strachan
MPhil Student