Professor Robin May MA(Oxon), PhD

Professor Robin May

School of Biosciences
Professor of Infectious Disease

Contact details

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

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.

Qualifications

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

Biography

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.

Teaching

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.

Research

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.

Publications

Recent publications

Article

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.micinf.2023.105233

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. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1011763

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. https://doi.org/10.2196/48014

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. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-43061-0

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbc.2023.105134

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. https://doi.org/10.1128/iai.00066-23

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. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-40635-w

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. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1010321

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. https://doi.org/10.1002/gch2.202100138

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. https://doi.org/10.1039/D2CC02085H

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. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2022.0492

Panconi, L, Makarova, M, Lambert, E, May, R & Owen, D 2022, 'Topology‐based fluorescence image analysis for automated cell identification and segmentation', Journal of Biophotonics. https://doi.org/10.1002/jbio.202200199

Comment/debate

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. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1011001

Preprint

Panconi, L, Lorenz, CD, May, R, Owen, D & Makarova, M 2022 'Phospholipid tail asymmetry allows cellular adaptation to anoxic environments' bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.08.04.502790

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. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0010916

View all publications in research portal

Expertise

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

Expertise

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