I am Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Department of Life Science, and co-founder and head of R&D at Biocentis, an Imperial College spinout developing solutions for genetic control of the world’s most dangerous insects. In my capacity at Biocentis, I lead a team of world-leading researchers and experts in the development of genetically modified insect strains that can be used for safe, effective, and sustainable control. Our vision is to improve public health, food security, and the environment by targeting some of the few insect species that spread disease to humans and animals, destroy important crops, or threaten biodiversity.
A molecular biologist by training, my career spans more than 10 years of academic research at Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins University. My interest in the field began in the Crisanti lab at Imperial College where, during my PhD (2012-2016), I helped advance CRISPR-technologies for use in insects, and later developed the first gene drive system designed to spread through natural populations of the African malaria mosquito. Gene drives are selfish genetic elements that can be inserted into the genome of harmful insects, and used to modify entire populations for sustainable control. In theory, the strategy could help eliminate disease across entire regions of Africa by releasing just a very small number of modified insects into the environment. Since we first demonstrated the potential in mosquitoes, we uncovered key weaknesses and worked to improve it, leading to the creation of an extremely effective gene drive that received worldwide attention as a potential game changer towards the eradication of malaria. Motivated to translate scientific advances into real world intervention, I lead a first-of-its kind collaborative effort to test gene drive technology at scale, as a bridge between lab- and field- testing. This revolutionary research took place at a state-of-the-art facility in Italy – where Biocentis now runs its R&D operations – and received widespread attention by the mainstream media, scientists and national government bodies including the US National Academy of Sciences and the UK House of Lords. Our work has been published in leading scientific journals including Nature Biotechnology, Nature Communications and PNAS. The totality of these projects was made possible by the incredible mentorship, and later collaboration, of Dr Tony Nolan and Professor Andrea Crisanti, and the support of the department. Read our published articles at Google Scholar.
Between 2019-2021 I led a cross-boarder collaborative project aimed at understanding the neurogenetics underlying mosquito host-seeking behaviour as a Sir Henry Wellcome Fellow. This research was co-sponsored by Dr Tony Southall (Imperial College), Dr Conor McMeniman (John’s Hopkins University) and Professor Stephen Goodwin (Oxford University). The Wellcome funded project was used to develop new tools for optogenetics in the malaria mosquito that allow visualisation and functional characterisation of the neurons and genes that are needed by mosquitoes to hunt down humans.
I currently hold honorary positions at both Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins University, where I continue to teach and supervise graduate students as part of academia-industry partnerships. Prior to joining Biocentis, I was honoured to receive the Sir Henry Wellcome Fellowship and the 2020 early career biochemist of the year.
Read published research articles at Google Scholar
What next for gene drives (Science News, 2022)
Genetic engineering test with mosquitoes ‘may be game changer’ in eliminating malaria (Guardian, 2021)
Science moves closer to killing malaria with mutant mosquitoes (WIRED, 2019)
Giving Malaria a Deadline (The New York Times, 2018)
A new genetic-engineering technology could spell the end for malaria (The Economist, 2018)
Mosquitoes ‘tricked into extinction’ (The Times, 2018)
Gene editing wipes out mosquitoes in the lab (BBC, 2018)
OUTREACH AND TEACHING
Become a gene drive researcher!
Interested students can get involved in genetic control research by contacting me for internship or graduate research opportunities at Biocentis, or as joint Imperial College – Biocentis graduate placements.
We hope to announce shortly a number of projects on the mathematical modelling of genetic control technologies for a range of insect pest and vector species, together with Dr Penny Hancock and Dr Ilaria Dorigatti.
Learn at Imperial
I teach on several course at Imperial College, including
- - MSc in Applied Biosciences and Biotechnology
- - MSc Genes, Drugs and Stem Cells
- - BSc in Biological Sciences (Advanced Topics in Parasitology and Vector Biology)
Hear more at public speaking events
Since 2015, I have been involved in efforts to discuss genetics, the ethics of genome engineering, and gene drive technology to students and the general public. I've given talks at several schools in the UK and abroad, and in 2017 I helped develop teaching tools for the Danish School system that included a lecture and ethics debate that were broadcast live across schools in the country. Please do not hesitate to get in touch should you wish to hear more about the fantastic research ongoing in the fight against malaria and other insect pests.
et al., 2018, A CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive targeting doublesex causes complete population suppression in caged Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, Nature Biotechnology, Vol:36, ISSN:1087-0156, Pages:1062-1066
Hammond AM, Galizi R, 2018, Gene drives to fight malaria: current state and future directions, Pathogens and Global Health, Vol:111, ISSN:2047-7724, Pages:412-423
et al., 2017, The creation and selection of mutations resistant to a gene drive over multiple generations in the malaria mosquito, PLOS Genetics, Vol:13, ISSN:1553-7390
et al., 2017, Requirements for Driving Antipathogen Effector Genes into Populations of Disease Vectors by Homing, Genetics, Vol:205, Pages:1587-1596
et al., 2016, A CRISPR-Cas9 sex-ratio distortion system for genetic control., Scientific Reports, Vol:6, ISSN:2045-2322
et al., 2016, A CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive system-targeting female reproduction in the malaria mosquito vector Anopheles gambiae, Nature Biotechnology, Vol:34, ISSN:1087-0156, Pages:78-83