Malaria and Edinburgh have a long association. This was marked most notably by the announcement by Patrick Manson (a Scotsman), at a meeting of the British Medical Association in Edinburgh in July 1898, of the discovery by Ronald Ross (also a Scotsman) of the mosquito cycle of the malaria parasite. The Nobel Prize awarded in 1902 to Ross for this discovery is now displayed in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The present era of malaria research in what is now the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh was started in 1966 by Geoffrey Beale (pictured left). His classical studies on the genetics of the free-living ciliate Paramecium aurelia came to the attention of P.C.C. Garnham, at that time Professor of Medical Parasitology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who suggested that he should turn his attention to a more “important” protozoan ! Funding was obtained from the Medical Research Council to start work on the genetics of malaria parasites. At this time David Walliker joined the group as a post-doctoral scientist, together with Richard Carter who was commencing his PhD studies. Together they carried out crosses between two parasite strains, initially with Plasmodium yoelii, and subsequently with P. chabaudi. This work was the first to demonstrate genetic recombination in malaria parasites using defined biochemical traits (electrophoretic enzyme variants and drug resistance markers) and showed that the life-cycle is mainly haploid with meiosis following the formation of the diploid zygote in the mosquito. Enzyme electrophoresis was at that time the method of choice for population genetic studies and was applied first to rodent malaria parasites and subsequently to study the genetic diversity of P. falciparum from around the world. More recently genetic linkage group selection in malaria expanded and flourished under the groups of Richard Carter and Sandra Cheesman, and identification and characterisation of drug rsistance markers under Paul Hunt.
Jana McBride introduced studies on immunology and immunoepidemiology of malaria including characterisation of the antigenic diversity of the major immune target antigen of P. falciparum, MSP-1. John Scaife's group pioneered some of the first studies on the molecular biology of malaria parasites and the molecular cloning of genes encoding malarial antigens. Together with that of Jana McBride their work on the diversity of the merozoite protein MSP-1 and other genes was unique at the time. Studies on the immunology of malaria, including especially the roles of cytokines and antibodies during malarial infection, were subsequently strengthened by the presence of Eleanor Riley. David Cavanagh established a malaria group in 2006 and continues to work in the areas of vaccine development and testing, and malaria antibody and antigen diagnostics.
The molecular biology of the parasites was expanded by Brian Kilbey’s and David Arnot's groups, especially in relation to DNA replication (Brian Kilbey) and molecular epidemiology (David Arnot). Andrew Read and Margaret Mackinnon brought evolutionary and quantitative biology to the study of malarial infections. Sarah Reece is now continuing these themes exploring evolution theories of malaria parasite reproduction. Alex Rowe established cellular studies on pathogenesis in malaria and in particular the phenomenon of rosetting. Joanne Thompson brought expertise in the molecular and biochemical cell biology of malaria parasites. The location of these groups within the Institutes of Immunology and Infection Research (IIIR) and Evolutionary Biology (IEB) has led to strong collaborative links with groups working on subjects such as population genetics, evolutionary biology, immunology, etc. The principal investigators and their current research interests are on view in the accompanying pages.