Portrait of Dr Alessia Buscaino

Dr Alessia Buscaino

Reader in Fungal Epigenetics
Director of Graduate Studies


Dr Alessia Buscaino graduated in Molecular Biology at the University of Palermo (Italy) in 2000.
She conducted her PhD research in the laboratory of Dr Asifa Akhtar at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL-Germany) research institute. During her PhD, her interest in epigenetics and chromatin modifications flourished while investigating mechanisms of Dosage Compensation in Drosophila melanogaster.
In 2005, Alessia was awarded an EMBO long-term post-doctoral fellowship to conduct research in the laboratory of Professor Robin Allshire (WTCCB-Edinburgh). During her post-doc she investigated how heterochromatin assembles on large blocks of DNA repeats in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe.
In 2013, she obtained an EMBO short-term Fellowship to investigate the chromatin status of Candida albicans repetitive DNA elements in Judith Berman's laboratory (TAU University- Tel-Aviv, Israel).
Alessia joined the University of Kent in 2013 as a Lecturer in Fungal Epigenetics. In 2016, Alessia was promoted to Senior Lecturer. Her group is part of the Kent Fungal Group

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-1704-3168

Research interests

Dr Buscaino's research group focuses in understanding how genome plasticity allows rapid and reversible adaptation to different environments. 
Research in the lab has two major themes:  

  1. Exploiting genome diversity in the yeast Scheffersomyces stipitis for improved bioethanol production The world population is growing rapidly and this rapid growth require high amount of energy. Lignocellulosic biomass is generated in large concentration as waste following agricultural, and forestry processing operations and could support bio-ethanol production at a level that would allow to reduce petroleum consumption by 30%. Lignocellulose is composed of different type of sugars: pentose sugars (such as xylose) and hexose sugars (such as glucose). The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is usually the organism of choice for industrial production of ethanol. However, S. cerevisiae is not an ideal choice for the production of second-generation ethanol because it cannot ferment pentose sugars (such as xylose). Contrary to S. cerevisiae, the yeast Scheffersomyces stipitis, isolated from the gut of wood-eating beetles, can ferment xylose in addition to glucose. Despite its great potential, the use of S. stipitis for bioethanol production still faces many challenges. For example, S. stipitis fermentes xylose less efficiently than glucose and its growth is inhibited at high ethanol concentration. In addition, the plant cell-wall material of lignocellulosic biomass is difficult to deconstruct into fermentable sugars. The chemical pretreatment required to extract glucose and xylose generates by-products that inhibit S. stipitis growth and fermentation. Different S. stipitis isolates vary in their ability to ferment ethanol but the genetic basis underlying this improved ethanol production is largely unknown. Therefore, very little is known of S. stipitis genomic diversity and its contribution to ethanol production. The Buscaino lab aims to exploit S. stipitis genome diversity to improve bioethanol production
  2. Understanding epigenetic mechanisms of stress induced genome plasticity in the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans fungi cause more human deaths than either Malaria or Tuberculosis. Candida albicans is the most common human fungal pathogen causing life-threatening infections. The incidence of C. albicans strains resistant to anti-fungal drugs is increasing every year. C. albicans is a successful pathogen because it adapts to parts of our body by breaking and shuffling its DNA. The DNA is packaged into 'chromatin', a structure that allows the DNA to be wrapped up so that it fits inside cells. Different DNA regions are packaged into distinct chromatin types: some can prevent DNA shuffling, others promote DNA shuffling. The Buscaino lab aims to understand why DNA breaks occur in C. albicans, whether chromatin changes during infection and how chromatin controls DNA breaks. This research will help our understanding of C. albicans DNA shuffling and will help the design of strategies to block it, stopping infections and drug resistance.


Alessia is the Module convenor of: 

  • Microbial Physiology and Genetics I - BI548   
  • Fungi as Human Pathogens - BI854 


MSc-R projects available for 2020/21

Using CRISPR-Cas9 to shuffle the Candida albicans genome
Candida albicans is an opportunistic fungus (a form of yeast) that normally lives on the human body without causing any harm. However, C.albicans can cause devastating diseases especially in immunocompromised patients who have undergone organ transplants, chemotherapy, or HIV treatment. During infections, C.albicans colonises several parts of our body and therefore need to thrive in the many different environments found in the body. For example, pathogenic C.albicans survives high temperatures (i.e. fever) and drug resistant C.albicans strains thrive in the presence of anti-fungal drugs. How can C.albicans adapt to such different environments? The main goal of this project is to answer this key question.
In all living organisms, the genome contains the information (genes) needed to build the organism and allow it to grow and develop. In most organisms, genome organisation must be maintained to ensure the right balance of genes.
This is different in C.albicans: this fungus, as many other human fungal pathogens, has a plastic genome. This means that its genome structure changes and that C.albicans can live without the right proportion of its genes or even miss a part of a chromosome. Importantly, C.albicans genome plasticity is enhanced when C.albicans encounters hostile environments (such as for example drug treatments) this allows selection of new genome organisations with a combination of genes that allow survival in these hostile environments. During this project, you will develop a novel CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to generate a library of C.albicans strains carrying different genomic rearrangements.You will then test which of these genomic organisations are beneficial for C.albicans virulence. 

Additional Research costs: £1500

Biofuels: could the yeast Scheffersomyces stipitis help?
Global energy demand is increasing as is the environmental damage due to fossil fuel use. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop renewable energy. Biofuels are fuels obtained from biomass, a renewable energy source, and have a fantastic potential to replace classic energy supplies. First generations of biofuels, extracted from food and oil crops have been successfully produced in industrial settings but their use poses ethical concerns because of competition with agriculture products. Second-generation biofuels have the potential to overcome these ethical issues because they are generated from non-food biomass derived from forestry and agriculture waste. The yeast Scheffersomyces stipitis is an ideal organism for second-generation biofuels since, contrary to Saccharomyces cerevisiae, it natively ferments all sugars found in non-food biomass.
During this project, you will combine Microbiology, Synthetic Biology and Genetics to generate superior S. stipites strains with improved properties for bioethanol production.
Additional research costs: £1500   

Post-Doctoral Researcher, Ph.D. student and Research Master applications from UK, EU, US & Overseas are always considered. Various funding sources can be explored. 

Post-Doc fellowships: EMBO, FEBS, HFSP, Newton, Marie Curie, Wellcome Trust. Please send your CV and summary of your research interests to: a.buscaino@kent.ac.uk


Alessia is a Core Member of the BBSRC Committee C. 

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