Matt joined the Wellcome Sanger Institute as a Senior Computational Biologist in the pathogen genomics unit at the end of 2000. His early work focussed on sequencing and analysing reference genomes of more than 20 eukaryotic pathogens, including globally important Apicomplexan and Kinetoplastid protozoa that cause diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis and African trypanosomiasis.
In 2008, Matt became a Faculty member and created the parasite genomics group, who studied the parasites that cause malaria and a range of parasitic worms including schistosomes, tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, threadworms, and whipworms, which cause some of the most neglected diseases and collectively infect more than a billion people.
The Berriman group used comparative genomics to sift through the vast numbers of uncharacterised genes and identify those that are limited to, or evolving more rapidly in, specific groups of parasites. These genes are often involved with pathogenesis processes and interactions between parasites and their hosts.
His group became world renowned for generating complete and highly accurate genomes which the parasitology community have come to rely on to inform their own work. They generated complete genomes from across the Plasmodium genus which they and others have used as the basis to study the organisation and function of the subtelomeric regions of chromosomes. These regions comprise 10-15 per cent of the parasite’s genomes, contain large repertoires of host-interacting genes and play important roles in the establishment and maintenance of infections.
In their 50 Helminth Genomes project, together with collaborators at Washington University and the University of Edinburgh, the Berriman group were major contributors to the sequencing, assembly, and annotation of genomes of many of the most important helminths that infect animals and humans. By generating and comparing new draft helminth genomes to populate the space around high-quality reference genomes, this project provided a broad overview of gene births and expansions relevant to parasitism, such as those involved in manipulating, migrating between or feeding on their hosts. These important genomic resources for most of the major roundworm and flatworm species enable innovation in research and support public health interventions, such as the prioritisation of novel drug targets and compounds that might be used to treat parasitic worm infections.