The Wheeler Lab is primarily researching how the highly motile single cell eukaryotic parasites which cause leishmaniasis (Leishmania species) and sleeping sickness (African trypanosomes) control their swimming and how this contributes to progression through their life cycles.
Richard Wheeler studied Natural Sciences with a biochemistry specialisation at the University of Cambridge before moving to the University of Oxford for a Wellcome Trust-funded DPhil in infection, immunology and translational medicine with Keith Gull. He was then awarded a Sir Henry Wellcome postdoctoral fellowship, which he used as an opportunity to work at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics with Tony Hyman on non-membrane-bound organelles, before returning to Oxford to set up his own research group.
Current research projects make use of classic molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry methods. Trypanosomes and Leishmania are highly genetically tractable with high-quality CRISPR systems available allowing advanced genome modifications. Research his group also extensively uses high content automated analysis of large data sets from light and electron microscopy, often supported by mathematical modelling, for quantitative systems biology approaches. The aim is to analyse how flagellum structure and cell shape contribute to cell swimming behaviours, how the cell generates these precisely defined structures and why parasites adapt their swimming to the different host and vector environments they encounter through their life cycles.
Much of this work does not only contribute to the understanding of parasite biology. It also speaks to general questions regarding cell motility and flagellum function, including how defects in flagella cause human genetic disease - ciliopathies.
Supporting this work, Richard Wheeler co-manages the TrypTag.org dataset, a project which has determined the sub-cellular localisation of every trypanosome protein. Protein localisation within the highly structured trypanosome cells is informative for function and is a major new cell biology and parasitology resource while also supporting research in his group.