Dr Christiaan van Ooij
I obtained my PhD from the University of California, San Francisco, where I investigated the interaction of Chlamydia trachomatis with its eukaryotic host cell. I started investigating malaria parasites when I was a post-doc at Northwestern University in Chicago, with an emphasis on the host-parasite interaction through the export of parasite proteins into the host erythrocyte. After a career break working at Nature Reviews Microbiology, a Wellcome Trust Career Re-Entry Fellowship gave me the opportunity to continue this work in Mike Blackman’s lab at the National Institute of Medical Research (and subsequently The Francis Crick Institute). An MRC Career Development Award then allowed me to join the Department of Pathogen Molecular Biology at the LSHTM in 2018. There, the focus of my work has shifted to the formation and expansion of the parasite-induced membranous compartments inside the infected erythrocyte and the role of phospholipid transport in this process.
The focus of my research is the interaction of malaria parasites with the host erythrocyte, in particular the formation of the exomembrane system. This exomembrane system consists of several membranous compartments within the infected erythrocyte. Although these compartments were already described nearly half a century ago, many questions about them remains. As uninfected erythrocytes do not contain internal membranes, the origin of these compartments is likely to be the parasite. However, the mechanism by which the parasites induce the formation of these compartments and the origin of the lipids that form their membranes remain unknown. By investigating the formation of the compartments in 4D and the distribution of phospholipids made by the parasite throughout the infected erythrocyte, and the mechanisms behind this, a better picture of the formation of the organelles will emerge. One parasite protein that may play an important role in the establishment of the exomembrane system in the phospholipid transfer protein PFA0210c. In-depth analysis of the biochemical and cellular role of this protein will provide further information about how the exomembrane system is formed. Another focus of the lab is the function of the proteins that are present in the parasitophorous vacuole membrane, the part of the exomembrane system that surrounds the parasite and separates it from the erythrocyte cytosol. Little is known about the function of any of these proteins, but the application of recently developed genetic techniques will allow us to gain insight into this question.