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Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance in Plants

Head of Group: Dr Ian Henderson

ian hendersonWe are interested in understanding plant sexual reproduction and the processes that generate variation between generations. Specifically, we are interested in the meiotic cell division where gametes are generated with half the number of chromosomes. During meiosis parental chromosomes are reshuffled to produce new combinations of genetic variation. This has a profound effect on patterns of natural genetic variation and is a vital tool in agriculture and crop breeding.

Patterns of recombination are non-random along plant chromosomes, and we are interested in defining the mechanisms that control these patterns. For example, we are testing whether epigenetic organisation of the genome contributes to recombination control. Consistent with this we have found associations between chromatin and recombination at both whole chromosome and hotspot scales. We have also found that in addition to shaping patterns of genetic polymorphism, recombination is also itself modulated by sequence differences.

Using genetics and genomics we hope to understand mechanisms acting during plant heredity, how they influence species evolution and how they can be applied during crop improvement.

Current projects include:

Mapping recombination hotspots

Recombination is not evenly distributed and mostly occurs in narrow hotspots. Using experimental and population genetics we have generated hotspot maps and using this information we aim to understand the control of hotspot locations.

Does epigenetic information control recombination?

Plant chromosomes and gene expression are controlled by epigenetic information, beyond the primary DNA sequence. Using genetics we are modifying epigenetic information to test its role in controlling recombination.

Natural genetic variation and crossover

In addition to reshuffling genetic variation, the recombination process can be directly influenced by sequence polymorphism. Using natural genetic diversity we are exploring these interactions.

From left: Arabidopsis chromosomes during the pachytene phase of meiosis are thin fibres, which by metaphase have fully condensed and are segregating to opposite cell poles; Transgenes expressing red and green fluorescent proteins can be used to monitor recombination in pollen tetrads