I am a molecular parasitologist broadly interested in all aspects of host-pathogen interactions and co-evolution. I have a particular interest in how chronoparasitology – the study of circadian rhythms of hosts and parasites – can be used to improve our understanding of disease dynamics in captive and wild animal populations. In addition, I am interested in how next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies can be used in the study of biotic and abiotic factors influencing species-specific differences in responses to shared pathogens.
As a BBSRC Future Leader Fellow, I examine interactions of aquaculture practice (e.g. manipulated light regimes, antibiotic use), circadian rhythmicity of gene expression in fish hosts and pathogens, and skin microbial communities, for a holistic approach towards fish health. I combine experimental parasitology and functional genomic methods to uncover how light regimes and circadian rhythms of fish, their parasites and microbiota, impact on fish disease susceptibility.
Anthropogenic induced changes to wild species (e.g. climate change, habitat destruction/fragmentation, introduction of invasive species) and domesticated species (e.g. increased intensity of farming, farming in new geographic regions, global transportation) populations are leading to alterations of host exposure risks to both native and novel pathogens. Consequently, the dynamics of host-pathogen interactions are currently changing at unprecedented rates in both natural and domestic animal populations. Therefore, studying how the rhythmicity of host immunity, parasite biology and environment interact, is crucial to our understanding of altered pathogen transmission dynamics and its consequences on host species fitness. I believe in this flourishing era of high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics, we are uniquely poised to tackle such questions at a new level of detail.
- 2012 PhD. Evolutionary genetics of the maintenance of mixed-mating systems. Aberystwyth University, UK.
- 2009 BSc. (Hons) Zoology (1st). Aberystwyth University, UK.
- 2019 – Lecturer of Biological Sciences. Bangor University, UK.
- 2018 – 2021 BBSRC Future Leader Fellow, Cardiff & Bangor University, UK. FUTUREFISH: The role of circadian rhythms, immunity and infection in enhancing aquaculture
- 2015 – 2018 NRN-LCEE Ser Cymru Fellow, Cardiff University, UK. AquaWales: Minimising the impacts of intensive aquaculture in the face of climate change.
- 2012 – 2015 NSF Postdoctoral Research Associate, Cornell University, USA. Functional genomics of amphibian chytridiomycosis resistance.
FUTUREFISH: The role of circadian rhythms, immunity and infection in enhancing aquaculture
Circadian rhythms are ubiquitous; from bacteria to plants and animals, all organisms exhibit daily behavioural, physiological, metabolic, and even microbiome cycles. This rhythmicity is regulated by pivotal sets of “clock genes” and in mammals, clock gene expression cycles drive daily variations in immune functions and disease susceptibility. Conversely, immune responses are recognized to alter clock gene expression. Stress responses (in particular altered glucocorticoid levels) can impact clock gene expression and, consequently, innate and adaptive immune responses. In humans, there is increasing recognition of the impact of circadian disruption (e.g. shift-work, jet-lag) on disease susceptibility and the potential to increase drug efficacy using time-of-day targeted treatments/vaccinations (“chronotherapy”). Temporal coordination of biological processes is not limited to free-living organisms; parasites also exhibit circadian rhythms in traits such as egg-laying or larval emergence. However, the extent to which these rhythms are entrained by host cues and/or the abiotic environment is poorly understood. Intriguingly, host-parasite circadian mismatch appears to be detrimental to parasite fitness. Therefore, the integration of chronobiology into current animal health and disease research frameworks is essential for advancing holobiont approaches to health.
In aquaculture, the world’s fastest-growing food sector, infectious disease is the principal barrier to economic and ecological sustainability. Disease outbreaks result in ~US$6 billion loss per year globally and account for annual losses up to 16.5% in the UK. Antibiotic-supplemented feeds are increasingly relied upon to mitigate disease despite concerns for their contribution to emerging antimicrobial resistance in aquatic environments. Intensive indoor aquaculture is heralded as the future of sustainable fish farming, in which the fish’s environment (e.g. light, temperature, feeding) and reproduction is finely tuned to maximise growth and productivity, without impacting natural ecosystems via waste, chemical treatments and escapes. Manipulated photoperiods – particularly extended day length for diurnal species – are currently promoted to improve juvenile rearing quality in many fish species. In the extreme, constant light is used to maximize somatic growth and delay maturation. Despite an increasing awareness of the intricate interaction between circadian gene expression and immune functions in mammals, how this corresponds to current disease issues in captive fish populations is unknown. However, our preliminary data suggests parasitic infections alter fish daily behaviour patterns and dysregulate clock gene expression. Moreover, while time-of-day targeted treatments of disease and cancer in humans appear to have exciting potential, this has yet to be translated to animal health practice and, more fundamentally, the molecular control of circadian rhythmicity in parasites remains unknown. FUTUREFISH will address these key knowledge gaps; investigating how light regimes and circadian rhythms of fish, their parasites and microbiota, interact to impact on disease susceptibility.