Leicester study to improve crop plants

Dr James Higgins (pictured) from the Department of Genetics has been awarded a New Investigator grant (£450,000) from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to investigate meiotic adaptation to whole genome duplication.

Whole genome duplication (or polyploidy) is common in the plant kingdom as it provides an opportunity for organisms to increase their genetic fitness. However, there are problems associated with polyploidy as doubled sets of chromosomes may be identical or very similar to each other and thus get tangled up during a particular stage of sexual reproduction - meiosis - which causes infertility.

Researchers are now in a position to unravel the mechanism of adaptation to polyploidy using state-of-the-art microscopy and de novo genome sequencing. Initially, model plant species will be investigated with the aim of transferring to crop plants.

Dr Higgins said: “I am extremely excited about the potential of this three-year project as it brings together innovations in genome sequencing as well as super-resolution microscopy. This research will provide us with answers to one of evolution’s most important processes and directly apply to improvement of crop plants.”