Lab Members

Moritz Treeck | Group Leader 

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Moritz Treeck

Broadly speaking, I am really interested to understand how host- pathogen interaction works on multiple levels. The parasites we work with, Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii both evolved to excel at infecting and modifying host cells and a huge proportion of the proteins important for these processes are poorly characterized. I very much enjoy working with a team of talented and enthusiastic individuals in the lab to unravel the complexity of host pathogen interaction.  Often this involves the development of new methods to overcome challenges. The scientific environment of the Francis Crick Institute enables us to use the latest technology developments to pursue these goals, often in collaboration with research groups from around the world.

 

Biography: I was born in the rainy city of Hamburg in northern Germany and I almost ended up as a lawyer. I prepared two applications, one for law and one for biology, and inserted one application blind-folded into the post-box. Law was still in my hands and I am thankful for this until the very day. Throughout my academic career I was interested in parasites and I have tried to attract as many as possible during my travels to Central America and South-East Asia. However, it was not until I met my future PhD advisor Tim Gilberger during a semester in Melbourne, Australia, where I got hooked working with malaria. I spent my PhD thesis at the Bernhard-Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany, studying protein trafficking and invasion of red blood cells by the malaria parasite. After that I  moved to John Boothroyd’s lab in Stanford, California to learn as much as I could about another really interesting parasite, Toxoplasma. After 4 years I returned to Europe to join the Francis Crick institute, which offered an outstanding research environment in a vibrant city.

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Max Addison | Post-doctoral Researcher

How does Toxoplasma reprogram human immune cells to facilitate infection? Toxoplasma secretes various effector proteins into its host cells, some of which function beyond ensuring the parasites' survival within the infected cell. These "paracrine" effectors are believed to directly reprogram host cell transcription to modify immune signalling, thus not only creating a better environment for the individual parasite, but the population in the host as a whole. To better understand this phenomenon, I will be using our single-cell RNA-sequencing screen to characterise effector mediated transcriptional changes in primary human immune cells. 

 

For his doctoral studies, Max carried out research in both the UK based Warwick university and the Singapore based A-Star institute under the tutelage of Nick Waterfield and John Connally. During this time, they investigated how the classically insect pathogenic bacterium Photorhabdus, has adapted to evade and overcome the human immune system, and the novel secretion systems required for this virulence.

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Aline Cristina Souza| Senior Laboratory Scientist

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How does Toxoplasma establish a favorable immune environment in the host? 

I am interested to identify the basis how effector proteins that Toxoplasma secretes into the murine host cell enable the generation of a favorable immune environment. We have recently identified that Toxoplasma mutants that fail to export a large subset of proteins into the host cell can grow normally in the presence of wildtype parasites, but are unable to mount a potent infection as a clonal parasite line.  This indicates that effector proteins that function in a paracrine manner are likely key for the establishment of an immune environment that serves the parasites' needs. I will investigate how this trans-rescue may function, and identify the Toxoplasma effector proteins involved in the process.

Aline completed her Ph.D in the laboratories of Dr. Robson Coutinho-Silva and Dr. David Ojcius at the University of Rio de Janeiro and California-Merced focusing on purinergic signaling in the host immune response against Toxoplasma gondii, through in vitro and in vivo infection models. She was awarded the PNPD fellowship and worked at the Cell Ultrastructure Laboratory Dr. Wanderley de Souza, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, investigating the interaction of the atypical strain of Toxoplasma with the central nervous system.

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Francesca Torelli

Francesca Torelli | Post-doctoral Researcher

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What are the common and specific tools different Toxoplasma strains use to succeed in infection? Toxoplasma secretes a large number of proteins that mediate adhesion and invasion, establishment and defence of the parasitophorous vacuole, and influence various host cell pathways. However, most of these secreted proteins have unknown functions. I will be using our arrayed CRISPR library with both in vitro and in vivo selection methods to identify which of those proteins is important for Toxoplasma's success to establish an infection. Furthermore, by performing the screen on strains that differ in virulence, I will identify which of these virulence factors are generic and which are strain-specific. My position as post-doctoral fellow is currently funded by German Research Foundation (DFG).

 

Francesca completed her PhD in the Seeber lab at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, working on the resistance mechanisms of wild rodents to Toxoplasma infection. In future work she aims to explore tolerance mechanisms of parasites to host immune responses.

Francesca Torelli Figure 2

Francesca Torelli

Identification and characterisation of novel Toxoplasma gondii virulence factors in macrophages using tailored CRISPR screens in vivo

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Stephanie Nofal

Stephanie Nofal | Post-doctoral Researcher

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How does Toxoplasma integrate different signalling pathways to trigger egress? Toxoplasma uses several signalling molecules and pathways to control growth, stage conversion and dissemination. It has recently been shown that the Toxoplasma plant-like kinase, CDPK3, plays a key role in rapid parasite egress from the host cell. I am currently investigating how specific CDPK3-dependent phosphorylation events regulate host cell egress. 

Stephanie completed her PhD in David Baker’s lab at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, where she worked on cyclic nucleotide signalling and molecular motor function in the malaria parasite. 

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Stephanie Nofal

Signalling pathways in Toxoplasma gondii

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Jill Dalimot | Post-doctoral Researcher

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Anemia is a major complication during severe human malaria, leading to the destruction of up to 1 uninfected red blood cells for every infected red cell. This process may be mediated in trans, by parasite exported proteins, but the effectors and the mechanism by which this occurs is largely not known. Jill is interested in the function of FIKK kinases on the surface translocation and potential export or secretion of parasite proteins associated with pathology, such as rifins and stevors.

Jill performed her doctoral studies in the Institute Sanguin in the with Robin van Bruggen, investigating the interaction of malaria infected (and uninfected) red cells with the immune system of the host.

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Jill Dalimot

 

 

Hemolyzed uninfected RBCs

(stained green)

in a cell culture containing

infected red blood cells

(bright blue stain)

Hugo Belda

Hugo Belda | Postdoc

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What is the function of post-translational modification in host cell remodelling by Plasmodium falciparum? P. falciparum exports a large number of proteins out into its host red blood cell. These proteins drive the transformation of red blood cells from oxygen-transporting cells with no nucleus and little of a typical cell’s internal machinery into a parasite-production facility that causes all of malaria’s most severe symptoms.  We and others have found that many of these exported proteins are phosphorylated, but the kinases responsible are not currently known and - most importantly - the functional consequences are a mystery. I am using quantitative phoshoproteomic methods and am developing new genetic tools to try and figure out how P. falciparum uses post-translational modification to take over red blood cells and cause disease. 

Davies, Belda et al.

An exported kinase family mediates species specific erythrocyte remodelling and virulence in human malaria

Nature Microbiology 2020

Simon Butterworth

Simon Butterworth | PhD Student

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How do Toxoplasma effector proteins reprogram the host cell? Toxoplasma secretes a large number of effector proteins into its host cell which inhibit immune responses to the parasite and reprogram host transcription, but how these effectors work in the context of different parasite strains and host cell types is not well understood. I am using our arrayed CRISPR library to design a single-cell RNA-sequencing screen to identify and characterise effector proteins that influence host reprogramming across cell types and parasite strains.

Simon Butterworth

Single cell transcriptomes of Toxoplasma gondii infected human fibroblasts

Eloise Lockyer

Eloise Lockyer | PhD Student

How does Toxoplasma disarm the human innate immune response? Humans are ‘accidental’ intermediate hosts for Toxoplasma (unless eaten by a lion). Yet, given the widespread human seroprevalence and incidence of toxoplasmosis it is clear Toxoplasma can evade elimination by the human immune system. Mouse models are commonly used to study Toxoplasma infection in vivo, but the critical mediators of cell-autonomous immunity in mice are absent or altered in human cells. Some of the protein effectors that Toxoplasma secretes to disarm mouse innate immunity have been well characterised, but if and how these effectors operate in human cells is less well studied. I am using our arrayed CRISPR library to identify the key complement of effectors that are essential to Toxoplasma virulence in both mouse and human hosts.

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Eloise Lockyer

Human macrophages (magenta) infected with Toxopasma gondii (green)

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David Jones

David Jones | PhD Student

How does P. falciparum respond to fever? David is interested in how the parasite Plasmodium falciparum responds and reacts to conditions met in a human host. While we can culture P. falciparum efficiently in human red blood cells, we miss the host environment and predict that the important function of many genes cannot be uncovered under standard cell culture conditions. Dave has identified a controlled response to physiological fever temperatures on the post-translational level that is linked to increased cytoadhesion, the major cause for pathology of this parasite. He is using cell culture models to mimic fever and identify the key regulators of this response. In collaboration with researchers in Africa we want to link cell culture studies to observations in patients.

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Omar Janha | CAN fellow

Omar is a Crick African Network Fellow from the MRC Centre at The Gambia. He is interested in identifying protein kinases as targets for transmission blocking drugs against malaria.
 

Protein kinases are key signal transducers of cellular processes in various stages of the Plasmodium life cycle including important roles in gametocyte commitment and development. Because of the importance of PKs in sexual commitment and gametocytes development, I am particularly interested in identifying suitable PKs to investigate as targets offering transmission blocking to stop the continuous spread of malaria in the wake and spread of parasites resistant to front-line antimalarial drugs including artemisinin as used in artemisinin combination therapy.

 

Omar completed his PhD from Prof Andrew Tobin’s malaria group in Glasgow University (formerly University of Leicester) in January 2019 working on validating P. falciparum CLK3 as a target offering cure, prophylaxis and transmission blocking for malaria where he developed keen interest in protein kinases