Professor Sarah Reece - many congratulations on the award of a Chair in Evolutionary Parasitology!

Very many congratulations to Sarah Reece who has just been awarded a Personal Chair in Evolutionary Parasitology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh!

Sarah has been at the University of Edinburgh since 2005.  She is currently a Royal Society Research Fellow, and leads a very vibrant research group studying malaria (Plasmodium) parasites, which cause some of the most serious infectious diseases of humans, livestock, companion animals and wildlife.

There is a great deal of research into the genetics, cell and molecular biology, and immunology of Plasmodium– but conspicuously less from a whole-organism (evolutionary) perspective – and malaria parasites remain a step ahead of medical science.   By using malaria parasites to test the predictions and assumptions underlying evolutionary theories they hope to reveal the generality and explanatory power of an evolutionary ecology approach.

There is increasing interest in using an evolutionary framework to evaluate the likely short- and long-term success of medical inventions.  Yet the success of ‘evolutionary medicine’ hinges on a significantly better understanding of even the basic evolutionary ecology of disease. 

Her group takes an evolutionary approach to understand the sophisticated strategies that parasites have evolved to maximize their survival during infections and transmission to new hosts.

The group tests evolutionary theory in a biomedical context to investigate how the social, in-host, and abiotic environments influence how malaria parasites live their lives.

Specific questions they are asking include:

  • How do host factors such as immunity, anaemia and the availability of red blood cell resources influence parasite strategies for survival and reproduction?
  • What are the costs and limits on parasites impressive repertoire of phenotypic plasticity?
  • What mating strategies have parasites evolved to ensure successful sexual reproduction with the right mates?
  • How much, when, and why do parasite life history traits alter in response to drug treatment during infections and over evolutionary time?
  • How does exposure to parasites influence maternal transfer of immunity and protection of young?

For more information and some cool pictures about Sarah's research, please visit her lab website

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