Speaker: Sarah Reece (University of Edinburgh)
Research in the Reece lab sits at the interface of parasitology, chronobiology and evolutionary ecology, motivated by the questions of “what makes parasites so successful” and “what limits their success?” The lab investigate the strategies that parasites have evolved to cope with the challenges of their lifestyle, and exploit the opportunities it brings. Sarah’s research focuses on malaria parasites, which are an excellent model system and have immense applied relevance because malaria parasites and their relatives cause some of the most serious infectious diseases of humans, livestock, and wildlife. There is a great deal of research into the genetics, cellular and molecular biology, and immunology of these parasites, but conspicuously less from whole-organism, ecological, and evolutionary perspectives. Sarah bridges this divide by explaining the complexity observed in parasite traits, which often overturns assumptions about parasite biology.
The Reece lab’s research discovers surprising sophistication in parasite strategies for survival and reproduction and Sarah’s talk will focus on recent work asking how parasites maximise in-host survival. Specifically, why - and how - parasites coordinate their cycles of replication in the blood with the host’s circadian rhythms. The discovery of periodicity in the activities malaria parasites dates back to the Hippocatic era, but the causes and consequences of these rhythms remain mysterious. Given increasing observations of rhythmicity in taxonomically diverse hosts and pathogens, there is potential for general evolutionary explanations. Examining the roles of biological rhythms during infections is a new arena for studying host-parasite-vector interactions. Insights gained may allow host rhythms to be leveraged to improve drug and vaccine efficacy, and reveal novel ways to reduce virulence and transmission by disrupting pathogen rhythms.