Professor Robin May MA(Oxon), PhD

Professor Robin May

School of Biosciences
Professor of Infectious Disease

Contact details

N113A, School of Biosciences and Institute of Microbiology & Infection
The University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am Professor of Infectious Disease at the Institute of Microbiology and Infection. My research centres on human infectious diseases, with a particular focus on how specific pathogens subvert the human immune response.  Currently, I am seconded to the UK Government for three days per week as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency.


  • MA(Oxon), Biological Sciences
  • PhD (Birmingham), Cell Biology
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology


I am Professor of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Institute of Microbiology & Infection at the University of Birmingham.  I hold an ERC Consolidator Award and a Wolfson Research Merit Award from the Royal Society.

My early training was in Plant Sciences (University of Oxford) followed by a PhD on mammalian cell biology with Prof. Laura Machesky (University College London & University of Birmingham).  From 2001-2004 I was a Human Frontier Science Program fellow with Prof. Ronald Plasterk at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, working on RNA interference mechanisms.  In 2005 I obtained a Research Council UK Fellowship to establish my own group at the University of Birmingham.  In 2010 I was awarded a Lister Fellowship and in 2013 I was presented with the Colworth Medal of the Biochemical Society.  I currently hold a Consolidator Award from the European Research Council and previously served as a co-director of the NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre, based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.

My research interests focus on host-pathogen interactions and, in particular in understanding how some pathogens are able to subvert the innate immune system.  Much of our work is aimed at improving the treatment or prevention of opportunistic infections in patients with impaired immunity, such as HIV-positive individuals, patients in critical care, or people with long-term immune-compromising conditions.


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

Robin May’s research focuses on the molecular basis of host-pathogen interactions. His group combines high-resolution microscopy with molecular and genetic approaches to probe the events that underlie establishment and spread of pathogens within the body. He has a particular interest in the innate immune response to fungi and in the evolution of virulence in opportunistic pathogens.

PhD opportunities

Doctoral research

PhD title
Regulation of the actin cytoskeleton.


My group are interested in host-pathogen interactions and, in particular, in understanding how some pathogens are able to subvert the innate immune system.  Most of our work focuses on phagocytic cells, which some microorganisms are able to use as a ‘safe house’ within which to replicate.  We try and understand how such pathogens can survive inside this hostile environment and the effect this intracellular reservoir has on disease progression.

The major focus of our group is on fungal infections, with a particular interest in cryptococcosis.  This potentially fatal disease is caused by two pathogenic species of Cryptococci, Cryptococcus neoformans and C. gattii, which share a remarkable ability to evade the innate immune system and disseminate throughout the body.  This is thought, in large part, to be the result of natural selection through environmental amoebae, since virulence traits that the fungus has evolved to survive within such predators typically work just as effectively within human phagocytes.

Other activities

I am currently Treasurer for the UK Microbiology Society and serve on the editorial boards of the journals PLOS Pathogens and Science Advances.


Recent publications


Onyishi, CU, Jeon, Y, Fejer, G, Mukhopadhyay, S, Gordon, S & May, RC 2024, 'Loss of the scavenger receptor MARCO results in uncontrolled vomocytosis of fungi from macrophages', European Journal of Immunology.

Rodrigues, ML, May, RC & Janbon, G 2024, 'The multiple frontiers in the study of extracellular vesicles produced by fungi', Microbes and Infection, vol. 26, no. 1-2, 105233.

Sauters, TJC, Roth, C, Murray, D, Sun, S, Floyd Averette, A, Onyishi, CU, May, RC, Heitman, J & Magwene, PM 2023, 'Amoeba predation of Cryptococcus: A quantitative and population genomic evaluation of the accidental pathogen hypothesis', PLoS Pathogens, vol. 19, no. 11, e1011763.

Njovu, IK, Nalumaga, PP, Ampaire, L, Nuwagira, E, Mwesigye, J, Musinguzi, B, Kassaza, K, Taseera, K, Kiguli Mukasa, J, Bazira, J, Iramiot, JS, Baguma, A, Bongomin, F, Kwizera, R, Achan, B, Cox, MJ, King, JS, May, R, Ballou, ER & Itabangi, H 2023, 'Investigating Metabolic and Molecular Ecological Evolution of Opportunistic Pulmonary Fungal Coinfections: Protocol for a Laboratory-Based Cross-Sectional Study', JMIR Research Protocols, vol. 12, e48014.

Mohamed, SH, Fu, MS, Hain, S, Alselami, A, Vanhoffelen, E, Li, Y, Bojang, E, Lukande, R, Ballou, ER, May, RC, Ding, C, Velde, GV & Drummond, RA 2023, 'Microglia are not protective against cryptococcal meningitis', Nature Communications, vol. 14, no. 1, 7202.

Panconi, L, Lorenz, CD, May, RC, Owen, DM & Makarova, M 2023, 'Phospholipid tail asymmetry allows cellular adaptation to anoxic environments', The Journal of biological chemistry, vol. 299, no. 9, 105134.

Haider, MJA, Shave, CD, Onyishi, CU, Jagielski, T, Lara-Reyna, S, Frickel, E-M & May, RC 2023, 'Species- and strain-specific differences in the phagocytosis of Prototheca: insights from live-cell imaging', Infection and Immunity.

Onyishi, CU, Desanti, GE, Wilkinson, AL, Lara-Reyna, S, Frickel, E-M, Fejer, G, Christophe, OD, Bryant, CE, Mukhopadhyay, S, Gordon, S & May, RC 2023, 'Toll-like receptor 4 and macrophage scavenger receptor 1 crosstalk regulates phagocytosis of a fungal pathogen', Nature Communications, vol. 14, no. 1, 4895.

Saidykhan, L, Correia, J, Romanyuk, A, Desanti, GE, Taylor-Smith, L, Makarova, M, Ballou, ER & May, RC 2022, 'An in vitro method for inducing titan cells reveals novel features of yeast-to-titan switching in the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus gattii', PLoS Pathogens, vol. 18, no. 8, e1010321.

Bryant, J, Riordan, L, Watson, R, Nikoi, ND, Trzaska, W, Slope, L, Tibbatts, C, Alexander, MR, Scurr, DJ, May, R & De Cogan, F 2022, 'Developing novel biointerfaces: using chlorhexidine surface attachment as a method for creating anti-fungal surfaces', Global Challenges, vol. 6, no. 5, 2100138.

Du, Y, May, RC & Cooper, HJ 2022, 'Native ambient mass spectrometry of intact protein assemblies directly from Escherichia coli colonies', Chemical Communications, vol. 58, no. 48, pp. 6857-6860.

Rose, S, Beckwith, EJ, Burmester, C, May, RC, Dionne, MS & Rezaval, C 2022, 'Pre-copulatory reproductive behaviours are preserved in Drosophila melanogaster infected with bacteria', Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 289, no. 1974, 20220492.


Saidykhan, L, Correia, J, Romanyuk, A, Peacock, AFA, Desanti, GE, Taylor-Smith, L, Makarova, M, Ballou, ER & May, RC 2022, 'Correction: An in vitro method for inducing titan cells reveals novel features of yeast-to-titan switching in the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus gattii', PLoS Pathogens, vol. 18, no. 11, e1011001.


Panconi, L, Lorenz, CD, May, R, Owen, D & Makarova, M 2022 'Phospholipid tail asymmetry allows cellular adaptation to anoxic environments' bioRxiv.

Review article

Saidykhan, L, Onyishi, CU & May, RC 2022, 'The Cryptococcus gattii species complex: Unique pathogenic yeasts with understudied virulence mechanisms', PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, vol. 16, no. 12, e0010916.

View all publications in research portal


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.

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