UCL Division of Biosciences


Joint GEE & SMB Seminar - Professor Harmit Malik, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center

16 October 2023, 4:00 pm–5:30 pm

Title: 'Red Queen Rules: Genetic Conflicts Shape Biology'

Event Information

Open to

UCL staff | UCL students | UCL alumni




Amy Godfrey


SB31 Denys Holland LT
Bentham House

Abstract: Harmit Malik studies the causes and consequences of genetic conflicts that take place between different genomes (e.g., host-virus interactions, mitochondrial conflicts with nuclear genomes) or between components of the same genome (e.g., chromosomal competition at centromeric regions). He is interested in understanding these "molecular arms races" and how they drive recurrent genetic innovation, from the perspective of both evolutionary biology and human disease. In one line of work, Malik and his colleagues have used an evolutionary lens to dissect and discover both primate antiviral as well as viral adaptation strategies. Another significant area of research in the Malik lab is the study of rapid evolution in genes involved in essential cellular processes such as chromosome segregation. Together with Steven Henikoff, he proposed the 'centromere-drive' model, which posits that unusual genetic conflicts during meiosis drive the unexpectedly rapid evolution of centromeric DNA and proteins, which in turn may provide a basis of postzygotic reproductive isolation between recently diverged species. 

About the Speaker

Professor Harmit Malik

Professor and Associate Director at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center

Dr. Harmit Malik studies genetic conflict, the competition between genes and proteins with opposing functions that drives evolutionary change. His research could have implications for a range of diseases, from HIV to cancer. As part of this work, his team developed an approach for identifying genes that divide one species from another, which could help solve the riddle of how new species evolve. Dr. Malik also studies the evolutionary processes that drive our body’s interactions with viruses, including contemporary scourges like HIV as well as ancient viruses whose fossils litter our genome. With Hutch colleagues, he has characterized the rapidly evolving interface between proteins on human cells and viruses that make us sick. This work has highlighted surprising deviations from “textbook” models of these interactions, and it is revealing gene variants that could influence our susceptibility to infection.

More about Professor Harmit Malik