Dr Catherine Merrick
Honorary Communications Secretary (2015-2018)
Lecturer at Keele University
Catherine Merrick is a lecturer at Keele University. Her research at Keele's Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology focuses on the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, with the goal of improving our understanding of the parasite’s basic biology and the impact of this biology on virulence. She uses molecular genetics together with biochemical techniques to study this important disease-causing organism.
Areas of interest include mechanisms for silencing and promoting the recombination of a family of virulence genes called var genes - particularly the role that G-quadruplex DNA structures may play in var gene control. Var genes encode the major parasite antigen expressed on infected red blood cells; they are found primarily at sub-telomeric loci and their variant expression is under epigenetic control. She is also interested in the structure and function of the telomeres adjacent to these virulence genes, and in the molecular mechanisms underlying DNA replication and cell cycle control in Plasmodium, which replicates by an unusual method called 'schizogony'. Finally, she has a long-standing interest in a group of NAD+-dependent deacetylase enzymes called ‘sirtuins’ which regulate subtelomeric chromatin and virulence gene expression. Her previous work linked the Plasmodium falciparum sirtuins to particular patterns of var gene expression and to severe malaria in human patients.