Professor Robin May MA(Oxon), PhD

Professor Robin May

School of Biosciences
Professor of Infectious Disease

Contact details

+44 (0)121 41 45418
+44 (0)121 41 45925
School of Biosciences and Institute of Microbiology & Infection
The University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am Professor of Infectious Disease and Director of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection. My research centres on human infectious diseases, with a particular focus on the molecular basis of host-pathogen interactions


  • MA(Oxon), Biological Sciences
  • PhD (Birmingham), Cell Biology


My PhD research, on the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton, was undertaken at the Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, UCL, and here at the University of Birmingham, with Professor Laura Machesky (now at the Beatson Institute, Glasgow).

In 2001 I was awarded a Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) fellowship and moved to the Netherlands to work with Professor Ronald Plasterk (now a member of the Dutch Parliament) on the mechanism of RNA interference in C. elegans.

In 2005 I was awarded an RCUK Fellowship to return to Birmingham as an independent Principal Investigator, where I am now Professor in Infectious Disease. In 2010 I was awarded a Lister Prize Research Fellowship and, in 2015, appointed as a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award holder.


I teach on infectious disease and immunology, recently primarily in the final year module “Human Evolution” and on the MSc programme in Microbiology and Infection

Postgraduate supervision

We are always interested in hearing from potential PhD students who may wish to join the lab. We typically take on one PhD student each year to join their project of choice. You can find out more about current graduate students in the group here:

Professor May offers PhD projects in the area of host-pathogen interactions (see details on FindAPhD) and via the Wellcome Trust 4-year PhD Program in Inflammatory Disease.

PhD opportunities

Doctoral research

PhD title
Regulation of the actin cytoskeleton.


Research Theme within School of Biosciences: Molecular Microbiology

Lab website address:

Short research description

My research focuses on the molecular basis of host-pathogen interactions. My group combine high-resolution microscopy with molecular and genetic approaches to probe the events that underlie establishment and spread of infective agents; primarily the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans, but also the invasive zygomycete fungi and the bacterial pathogens Salmonella Typhimurium (a leading cause of food-poisoning) and Streptococcus agalactiae (the leading cause of neonatal meningitis in the developed world). 

Full research description

The evolution and molecular basis of host-pathogen interactions

The continual struggle between pathogens and their hosts is a major selective force, resulting in the evolution of ever more complex host-pathogen interactions as both sides attempt to 'win' the conflict. We are interested in the molecular basis of such interactions and in how they have evolved.

To address these questions we combine cellular and whole-organism based approaches to study the interaction between cells of the mammalian immune system (primarily macrophages) and several pathogens. We are particularly interested in understanding how some organisms can survive, replicate and eventually escape from within macrophages.

For more information on our research and the members of our group, please see our lab website.

Listen to my podcast 'Infection' (MP3 - 16.5MB).


For a full list of recent publications please visit

Selected publications

Gilbert AS, Seoane PS, Sephton-Clark P, Bojarczuk A, Hotham R, Giurisato E, Sarhan AR, Hillen A, vande Velde G, Gray NS, Alessi DR, Cunningham DL, Tournier C, Johnston SA, May RC.  Vomocytosis of live pathogens from macrophages is regulated by the atypical MAP kinase ERK5.  Science Advances, in press.

Trzaska WJ, Wrigley H, Thwaites J, May RC.  Species-specific antifungal activity of blue light.  Sci Rep 2017 7(1):4605

Farrer RA, Voelz K, Henk DA, Johnston, SA, Fisher, MC, May RC & Cuomo C. Microevolutionary traits and comparative population genomics of the emerging pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus gattiiPhil Trans Roy Soc B. 2016 371:20160021

May RC, Stone NRH, Wiesner DL, Bicanic T, Nielsen K.  Cryptococcus: from environmental saprophyte to global killer.  Nature Microbiology Reviews 2016, 14(2):106-17.

Trzaska WJ, Correia JN, Villegas MT, Voelz K, May RC.  pH manipulation as a novel strategy for treating mucormycosis.  Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 2015, 59(11):6968-74.

Farrer RA, Desjardins CA, Sakthikumar S, Gujia S, Saif S, Zeng Q, Chen Y, Voelz K, Heiman J, May RC, Fisher M, Cuomo CA.  Genome evolution and innovation across the four major lineages of Cryptococcus gattiimBio 2015, 6(5): e00868-15.

Beale MA, Sabiiti W, Robertson EJ, Fuentes-Cabrejo KM, O'Hanlon SJ, Jarvis JN, Loyse A, Meintjes G, Harrison TS, May RC, Fisher MC, Bicanic T. Genotypic Diversity Is Associated with Clinical Outcome and Phenotype in Cryptococcal Meningitis across Southern Africa. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2015 Jun 25;9(6):e0003847

Evans RJ, Li Z, Hughes WS, Djordevic JT, Nielsen K, May RC. Cryptococcal Phospholipase B1 (PlB1) is required for intracellular proliferation and control of titan cell morphology during macrophage infection.  Infection & Immunity, 2015, 83(4): 1296-304.

Smith LM, Dixon EF, May RC.   The fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans manipulates macrophage phagosome maturation.  Cellular Microbiology, 2014, 17(5): 702-13

Voelz K, Idnurm A, Smith LM, Hall RA, Johnston SA, May RC.  Pathogenic 'division of labour' in response to host ROS drives a fatal fungal outbreak.  Nature Communications, 2014, 5:5194.

Engelthaler DM, Hicks ND, Gillece JD, Roe CC, Schupp JM, Driebe EM, Gilgado F, Carriconde F, Trilles L, Firacative C, Ngamskulrongroj P, Castaneda E, Lazera MS, Melhem M, Perez-Bercoff A, Huttlley G, Sorrell TC, Voelz K, May RC, Fisher M, Thompson GR, Lockhart SR, Keim P, Meyer W.

Cryptococcus gattii in North American Pacific Northwest: whole population genome analysis provides insights into species evolution and dispersal.  mBio, 2014, 5(4): e01464-14.

Springer DJ, Billmyre RB, Filler EE, Voelz K, Pursall R, Mieczkowski PA, Larsen RA, Dietrich FS, May RC, Filler SG, Heitman J.  Cryptococcus gattii VGIII isolates causing infections in HIV/AIDS patients in Southern California: Identification of the local environmental source as arboreal.  PLOS Pathogens, 2014, 10(8): e1004285

Sabiiti W, Robertson E, Beale MA, Johnston SA, Brouwer AE, Loyse A, Jarvis JN, Fisher MC, Harrison TS, May RC*, Bicanic T* [Joint corresponding author].  Efficient phagocytosis and laccase activity affect the outcome of HIV-associated cryptococcosis.  J. Clin Invest, 2014, 124(5):2000-2008.


How pathogens infect their hosts and how hosts retaliate; the interaction between human immune cells and a fatal fungal pathogen; the evolution of immunity which we study using a species of microscopic worm.

Alternative contact number available for this expert: contact the press office


infection and immunity; fungal infections; pathogens; innate immune systems; opportunistic infections