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Cambridge Infectious Diseases

An Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge

Studying at Cambridge


Dr Mara Lawniczak

Dr Mara Lawniczak

Group Leader: Vector-parasite interactions

We use genomic approaches to better understand mosquito populations and parasite transmission dynamics.

Departments and Institutes

Wellcome Sanger Institute:
Group Leader Vector-parasite interactions

Research Interests

Mara is an evolutionary geneticist interested in understanding what makes some mosquitoes better than others at transmitting malaria, and what makes some parasites better at getting transmitted. She also likes trying out any new technology that enhances our understanding of genomes.

Malaria still kills hundreds of thousands of children every year 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. Likewise, I'm interested in how parasites behave in the human host and in the mosquito to increase their chances of transmission.

We carry out large scale whole genome sequencing projects on mosquitoes, and we are focused on a deeper understanding of diversity in African vectors in particular. We lead the Anopheles funestus population genomics project, partnered with many scientists in Africa, to evaluate diversity and selection in this important but often overlooked species. This is one of many daughter projects of the MalariaGEN Vector Observatory, a major effort at Sanger to do population genomics for all major vectors.

Many species of Anopheles are very difficult to keep as colonies or to inbreed and these facts cause all sorts of problems for building good assemblies using current technology. Therefore, we are also leading a project to use wild caught individuals and their broods to assemble high quality reference genomes from multiple major and secondary vectors.This is in collaboration with Richard Durbin at Cambridge and Dan Neafsey at Harvard/Broad.

Our other major area of research is around using single cell RNA sequencing to investigate transmission dynamics in Plasmodium. We created the Malaria Cell Atlas, a data resource that will continue to grow as we expand our efforts to examine indivdiual parasite transcriptomes in the context of both lab and natural infections.

All areas of our research are aimed at gaining a deep evolutionary understanding of these interesting yet deadly organisms, and ultimately our research and the data we generate will help to implement new methods of control, including gene drive and transmission blocking strategies that aim to stop malaria.

Research Projects in:

Mali, Abdoulaye Djimde, current

Kenya, Jeremy Herren, current

Uganda, past




  • Global Health
  • Pathogen Evolution
  • Disease vectors


  • Malaria
  • Neglected tropical diseases

Key Publications

  • Single-cell RNA-seq reveals hidden transcriptional variation in malaria parasites.

    Reid AJTalman AMBennett HMGomes ARSanders MJ et al.

    eLife 2018;7

  • Genetic diversity of the African malaria vector Anopheles gambiae.

    Anopheles gambiae 1000 Genomes ConsortiumData analysis groupPartner working groupSample collections—Angola:Burkina Faso: et al.

    Nature 2017;552;7683;96-100

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

    Fontaine MCPease JBSteele AWaterhouse RMNeafsey 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 DEWaterhouse RMAbai MRAganezov SSAlekseyev MA et al.

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