Development and Evolution of Land Plants

Research focus

Our laboratory uses  genetics to discover how plants and their cells develop and evolve.  The main focus has been the identification of mechanisms that control the development and differentiation of specialised plant cell types.  Using this information, we formulate testable hypotheses for how these mechanisms evolved during Earth history.  Our current activity falls into three overlapping research areas.

Evolution of development: We use a combination of genetics and palaeontology to identify patterns in plant evolution and defining the molecular mechanisms that controlled the formation of land plant bodies soon after the colonisation of the land sometime around 500 million years ago.  This research has identified the molecular mechanism that controlled the formation of the rooting structures that evolved among the first land plants that existed in the Ordovician Period.

De-novo polarity formation: We use combination of genetics and imaging to define the mechanisms by which cells polarise from a non-polar state during the course of development.  This programme focusses on the transformation of the apolar spore to a polarised cell which then undergoes a series of polarity-directed developmental decisions to form a mature plant.

Innovation: Our research to understand the evolution of developmental mechanisms of plant cells requires the development of new technologies.  These technologies can be applied to other challenges in biology, medicine and agriculture.  We bundled a set of enabling technologies into a spin-out company which develops crop protection products for agriculture.  We continue to make use of our new knowledge to develop technologies that reduce the environmental impact of food production and improve human health.

Selected publications

Hetherington AJ, Bridson SL, Jones AL, et al. (2021) An evidence-based 3D reconstruction of Asteroxylon mackiei the most complex plant preserved from the Rhynie chert. eLife 10:e69447 preprint bioRxiv:2021.04.11.439326.

Champion C, Lamers J, Jones VAS, et al. (2021) Microtubule associated protein WAVE DAMPENED2-LIKE (WDL) controls microtubule bundling and the stability of the site of tip-growth in Marchantia polymorpha rhizoids. PLoS Genet 17(6):e1009533.

Wang L, Jia X, Zhang Y, et al. (2021) Loss of two families of SPX domain-containing proteins required for vacuolar polyphosphate accumulation coincides with the transition to phosphate storage in green plants. Mol Plant 14(5):8838-46.

Hetherington AJ, Emms DM, Kelly S, et al. (2020) Gene expression data support the hypothesis that Isoetes rootlets are true roots and not modified leaves. Sci Rep 10(1):21547.

Hetherington AJ, Berry CM, Dolan L (2020) Multiple origins of dichotomous and lateral branching during root evolution. Nat Plants 6(5):454–9.