Dr Mara Lawniczak | Group Leader

Lawniczak, Mara

Mara is an evolutionary geneticist interested in understanding what makes some mosquitoes better than others at transmitting malaria. She’s also likes to keep up to speed with new technologies that enhance our understanding of genomes.

Malaria still kills hundreds of thousands of children in Africa. I’m interested in all aspects of what makes an Anopheles female mosquito such an effective vector of this deadly parasite, from her genotype to her life history.

We are using genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in the major sub-Saharan African malaria vectors to map genetic variation associated with mosquito susceptibility to P. falciparum. Dissecting the molecular basis of mosquito susceptibility to Plasmodium infection is a major step towards implementing new methods of control, such as transmission blocking, that depend on a deep understanding of the molecular interactions between vectors and parasites.

Background: I did my undergraduate research at University of Michigan, confident that I wanted to become a marine biologist. I still maintain a fondness for mollusks and marine mammals, but my career path was diverted towards studying arms race evolution between hosts and parasites by an undergraduate project where I worked on the virulence of mouse liver nematodes. I spent a year in remote Madagascar realizing field work was rife with failure and I didn’t want to do it. So I went to study bacteria/phage antagonistic coevolution with Jim Bull at University of Texas but became fascinated by the fact that these arms race dynamics could happen within the same genome via sexual conflict. I therefore switched systems and became a Drosophila evolutionary geneticist during my PhD at University of California Davis with David Begun, studying female evolutionary responses to manipulative seminal fluid proteins transferred by males during mating. I moved to the UK to do a postdoc with Tracey Chapman at UCL on functional genetics of seminal fluid proteins in Drosophila, but then decided again to switch systems and began studying Anopheles and Plasmodium in 2007 as a postdoc in the labs of Fotis Kafatos and George Christophides at Imperial College London. [NB. I took a year off during 2006/2007 and don't think taking time away when you need it is a career killer]. Now at Sanger, my group is doing a fair bit of field work, and while still rife with failures, it also feels like a genuine gift to be working on a system that is both scientifically fascinating but also has such important consequences for so many millions of people.

Publications

  • Mosquito genomics. Extensive introgression in a malaria vector species complex revealed by phylogenomics.

    Fontaine MC, Pease JB, Steele A, Waterhouse RM, Neafsey DE et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2015;347;6217;1258524

  • Mosquito genomics. Highly evolvable malaria vectors: the genomes of 16 Anopheles mosquitoes.

    Neafsey DE, Waterhouse RM, Abai MR, Aganezov SS, Alekseyev MA et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2015;347;6217;1258522

  • SNP genotyping defines complex gene-flow boundaries among African malaria vector mosquitoes.

    Neafsey DE, Lawniczak MK, Park DJ, Redmond SN, Coulibaly MB et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2010;330;6003;514-7

  • Widespread divergence between incipient Anopheles gambiae species revealed by whole genome sequences.

    Lawniczak MK, Emrich SJ, Holloway AK, Regier AP, Olson M et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2010;330;6003;512-4

  • Mosquito genomics. Extensive introgression in a malaria vector species complex revealed by phylogenomics.

    Fontaine MC, Pease JB, Steele A, Waterhouse RM, Neafsey DE et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2015;347;6217;1258524

  • Mosquito genomics. Highly evolvable malaria vectors: the genomes of 16 Anopheles mosquitoes.

    Neafsey DE, Waterhouse RM, Abai MR, Aganezov SS, Alekseyev MA et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2015;347;6217;1258522

  • Proteomic analysis of the Plasmodium male gamete reveals the key role for glycolysis in flagellar motility.

    Talman AM, Prieto JH, Marques S, Ubaida-Mohien C, Lawniczak M et al.

    Malaria journal 2014;13;315

  • Genetic dissection of Anopheles gambiae gut epithelial responses to Serratia marcescens.

    Stathopoulos S, Neafsey DE, Lawniczak MK, Muskavitch MA and Christophides GK

    PLoS pathogens 2014;10;3;e1003897

  • Adaptive divergence between incipient species of Anopheles gambiae increases resistance to Plasmodium.

    White BJ, Lawniczak MK, Cheng C, Coulibaly MB, Wilson MD et al.

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2011;108;1;244-9

  • SNP genotyping defines complex gene-flow boundaries among African malaria vector mosquitoes.

    Neafsey DE, Lawniczak MK, Park DJ, Redmond SN, Coulibaly MB et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2010;330;6003;514-7

  • Widespread divergence between incipient Anopheles gambiae species revealed by whole genome sequences.

    Lawniczak MK, Emrich SJ, Holloway AK, Regier AP, Olson M et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2010;330;6003;512-4

  • Adaptive gene expression divergence inferred from population genomics.

    Holloway AK, Lawniczak MK, Mezey JG, Begun DJ and Jones CD

    PLoS genetics 2007;3;10;2007-13

  • Molecular population genetics of female-expressed mating-induced serine proteases in Drosophila melanogaster.

    Lawniczak MK and Begun DJ

    Molecular biology and evolution 2007;24;9;1944-51

  • A QTL analysis of female variation contributing to refractoriness and sperm competition in Drosophila melanogaster.

    Lawniczak MK and Begun DJ

    Genetical research 2005;86;2;107-14

  • A genome-wide analysis of courting and mating responses in Drosophila melanogaster females.

    Lawniczak MK and Begun DJ

    Genome / National Research Council Canada = GeĢnome / Conseil national de recherches Canada 2004;47;5;900-10

Lawniczak, Mara