Dr James Higgins

Associate Professor

School/Department: Genetics and Genome Biology, Department of

Telephone: +44 (0)116 223 1296


Address: Maurice Shock Building, University Road, Leicester. LE1 7RH


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UKRI grants



James Higgins received a BSc (Hons) in biology from the University of Nottingham in 1997, developing an interest in plant genetics and subsequently pursuing the application of this knowledge to improve plant varieties by undertaking an MSc in crop protection at the University of Bristol in 1998. This was followed by a PhD at HRI-Warwick to understand and potentially delay the post-harvest yellowing of broccoli, graduating in 2002.

As a postdoctoral fellow Dr Higgins worked in the groups of Professor Chris Franklin and Dr Gareth Jones at the University of Birmingham to identify and characterise key genes involved in meiotic recombination in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. The knowledge and tools were transferred to barley, Hordeum vulgare, to open up inaccessible areas of the genome to recombination so that desirable traits can be bred together and undesirable traits selected out.

Dr Higgins became a lecturer at the University of Leicester in 2013 and was promoted to associate professor in 2017.

Current work is centred on pursuing an interest in crop genetics as well as using model systems to gain a greater understanding of meiotic recombination to improve crop varieties for the challenges of the 21st century.


The focus of Dr Higgins’ research is to unravel the mechanisms governing meiotic crossover frequency and distribution in model plants and crop species including Arabidopsis, barley, wheat and rice.

Genetic, cytogenetic and genomic techniques are used to answer fundamental biological questions regarding the function of meiotic genes that ensure correct chromosome pairing synapsis and crossing over to promote balanced segregation of chromosomes into haploid gametes.

One of the outstanding mysteries is how the synaptonemal complex proteins mediate crossover patterning. Dr Higgins and his group aim to further elucidate and translate this knowledge into breeding programmes.



Dluzewska J, Dziegielewski W, Szymanska-Lejman M, Gazecka M, Henderson IR, Higgins JD, Ziolkowski PA. (2023). MSH2 stimulates interfering and inhibits non-interfering crossovers in response to genetic polymorphism. Nature Communications: 14(1):6716.

Di Dio C, Serra H, Sourdille P, Higgins JD. (2023). ASYNAPSIS 1 ensures crossover fidelity in polyploid wheat by promoting homologous recombination and suppressing non-homologous recombination. Frontiers in Plant Science: 14:1188347

Jiang Y, N'Diaye A, Koh CS, Quilichini TD, Shunmugam ASK, Kirzinger MW, Konkin D, Bekkaoui Y, Sari E, Pasha A, Esteban E, Provart NJ, Higgins JD, Rozwadowski K, Sharpe AG, Pozniak CJ, Kagale S. (2023). The coordinated regulation of early meiotic stages is dominated by non-coding RNAs and stage-specific transcription in wheat. The Plant Journal: 114(1):209-224.

Hyde L, Osman K, Winfield M, Sanchez-Moran E, Higgins JD, Henderson IR, Sparks C, Franklin FCH, Edwards KJ. (2023). Identification, characterization, and rescue of CRISPR/Cas9 generated wheat SPO11-1 mutants. Plant Biotechnology Journal: 21(2):405-418.

Higgins JD, Osman K, Desjardins SD, Henderson IR, Edwards KJ, Franklin FCH. (2022). Unravelling mechanisms that govern meiotic crossover formation in wheat. Biochemical Society Transactions: 50(4):1179-1186.

SD Desjardins, J Simmonds, I Guterman, K Kanyuka, AJ Burridge, AJ Tock, E Sanchez-Moran, FCH Franklin, IR Henderson, KJ Edwards, C Uauy, JD Higgins. (2022). FANCM promotes class I interfering crossovers and suppresses class II non-interfering crossovers in wheat meiosis. Nature Communications: 13(1):3644

AC Tidy, I Ferjentsikova, G Vizcay-Barrena, B Liu, W Yin, JD Higgins, X Jie, D Zhang, D Geelen, ZA Wilson. (2022) Journal of Experimental Botany.

AJ Tock, DM Holland, W Jiang, K Osman, E Sanchez-Moran, JD Higgins, KJ Edwards, C Uauy, FCH Franklin, IR Henderson. (2021). Crossover-active regions of the wheat genome are distinguished by DMC1, the chromosome axis, H3K27me3, and signatures of adaptation. Genome Research 31: 1614-1628.

MG France, J Enderle, S Röhrig, H Puchta, FCH Franklin, JD Higgins. (2021). ZYP1 is required for obligate cross-over formation and cross-over interference in Arabidopsis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 118.

K Osman, U Algopishi, JD Higgins, IR Henderson, KJ Edwards, FCH Franklin, E Sanchez-Moran. (2021). Distal bias of meiotic crossovers in hexaploid bread wheat reflects spatio-temporal asymmetry of the meiotic program. Front Plant Sci. 120.

AR Blackwell, J Dluzewska, M Szymanska‐Lejman, S Desjardins, AJ Tock, N Kbiri, C Lambing, EJ Lawrence, T Bieluszewski, B Rowan, JD Higgins, PA Ziolkowski, IR Henderson. (2020). MSH2 shapes the meiotic crossover landscape in relation to interhomolog polymorphism in Arabidopsis. The EMBO journal 39: e104858.

SD Desjardins, DE Ogle, MA Ayoub, S Heckmann, IR Henderson, KJ Edwards, JD Higgins JD. (2020). MutS homologue 4 and MutS homologue 5 maintain the obligate crossover in wheat despite stepwise gene loss following polyploidisation. Plant Physiology 183: 1545-1558.

PJ Seear, MG France, CL Gregory, D Heavens, R Schmickl, L Yant, JD Higgins. (2020). A novel allele of ASY3 is associated with greater meiotic stability in autotetraploid Arabidopsis lyrata. Plos Genet 16: e1008900.

C Di Dio, V Longobardi, G Zullo, P Parma, A Pauciullo, A Perucatti, JD Higgins, A Iannuzzi. (2020). Analysis of meiotic segregation by triple-color fish on both total and motile sperm fractions in a t(1p;18) river buffalo bull. Plos One 15: e0232592.

C Lambing, AJ Tock, SD Topp, K Choi, PC Kuo, X Zhao, K Osman, JD Higgins, FCH Franklin, IR Henderson. (2020). Interacting genomic landscapes of REC8-cohesin, chromatin, and meiotic recombination in Arabidopsis. The Plant Cell 32: 1218-1239.

R Fu, C Wang, H Shen, J Zhang, JD Higgins, W Liang. (2020). Rice OsBRCA2 is required for DNA double-strand break repair in meiotic cells. Front Plant Sci: 1800.

S Desjardins, K Kanyuka, JD Higgins. (2020). A cytological analysis of wheat meiosis targeted by virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS). Plant Meiosis, pp. 319-330. Humana, New York, NY.

L-J Gardiner, LU Wingen, P Bailey, R Joynson, T Brabbs, J Wright, JD Higgins, N Hall, S Griffiths, BJ Clavijo. (2019). Analysis of the recombination landscape of hexaploid bread wheat reveals genes controlling recombination and gene conversion frequency. Genome Biology 20: 1-16.

S Marburger, P Monnahan, PJ Seear, SH Martin, J Koch, P Paajanen, M Bohutínská, JD Higgins, R Schmickl, L Yant. (2019). Interspecific introgression mediates adaptation to whole genome duplication. Nature communications 10: 1-11.

J Zhang, C Wang, JD Higgins, Y-J Kim, S Moon, K-H Jung, S Qu, W Liang. (2019). A multiprotein complex regulates interference-sensitive crossover formation in rice. Plant physiology 181: 221-235.

AS Shunmugam, V Bollina, S Dukowic-Schulze, PK Bhowmik, C Ambrose, JD Higgins, C Pozniak, AG Sharpe, K Rozwadowski, S Kagale. (2018). MeioCapture: an efficient method for staging and isolation of meiocytes in the prophase I sub-stages of meiosis in wheat. BMC Plant Biol 18: 1-12.

J Walker, H Gao, J Zhang, B Aldridge, M Vickers, JD Higgins, X Feng. (2018). Sexual-lineage-specific DNA methylation regulates meiosis in Arabidopsis. Nat Genet 50: 130-137.

VI Simón-Porcar, JL Silva, S Meeus, JD Higgins, M Vallejo-Marín. (2017). Recent autopolyploidisation in a naturalised population of Mimulus guttatus (Phrymaceae). Bot J Linn Soc 185: 189-207.

C Wang, JD Higgins, Y He, P Lu, D Zhang, W Liang. (2017). Resolvase OsGEN1 mediates DNA repair by homologous recombination. Plant physiology 173: 1316-1329.

A Sepsi, JD Higgins, JS Heslop‐Harrison, T Schwarzacher. (2017). CENH3 morphogenesis reveals dynamic centromere associations during synaptonemal complex formation and the progression through male meiosis in hexaploid wheat. The Plant Journal 89: 235-249.

M Fu, C Wang, F Xue, JD Higgins, M Chen, D Zhang, W Liang. (2016). The DNA topoisomerase VI–B subunit OsMTOPVIB is essential for meiotic recombination initiation in rice. Molecular Plant 9: 1539-1541.

I Colas, M Macaulay, JD Higgins, D Phillips, A Barakate, M Posch, SJ Armstrong, FCH Franklin, C Halpin, R Waugh. (2016). A spontaneous mutation in MutL‐Homolog 3 (HvMLH3) affects synapsis and crossover resolution in the barley desynaptic mutant des10. New Phytologist 212: 693-707.

Y He, C Wang, JD Higgins, J Yu, J Zong, P Lu, D Zhang, W Liang. (2016). MEIOTIC F-BOX is essential for male meiotic DNA double-strand break repair in rice. The Plant Cell 28: 1879-1893.

K Bomblies, JD Higgins, L Yant. (2015). Meiosis evolves: adaptation to external and internal environments. New Phytologist 208: 306-323.

C Lambing, K Osman, K Nuntasoontorn, A West, JD Higgins, GP Copenhaver, J Yang, SJ Armstrong, K Mechtler, E Roitinger. (2015). Arabidopsis PCH2 mediates meiotic chromosome remodelling and maturation of crossovers. Plos Genet 11: e1005372.

JD Higgins, K Osman, GH Jones, FCH Franklin. (2014). Factors underlying restricted crossover localisation in barley meiosis. Annual Review of Genetics 48: 29-47.

A Barakate, JD Higgins, S Vivera, J Stephens, RM Perry, L Ramsay, I Colas, H Oakey, R Waugh, FCH Franklin. (2014). The synaptonemal complex protein ZYP1 is required for imposition of meiotic crossovers in barley. The Plant Cell 26: 729-740.

JD Higgins, KM Wright, K Bomblies, C Franklin. (2014). Cytological techniques to analyse meiosis in Arabidopsis arenosa for investigating adaptation to polyploidy. Front Plant Sci 4: 546.

L Yant, JD Hollister, KM Wright, BJ Arnold, JD Higgins, FCH Franklin, K Bomblies. (2013). Meiotic adaptation to genome duplication in Arabidopsis arenosa. Curr Biol 23: 2151-2156.

K Choi, X Zhao, KA Kelly, O Venn, JD Higgins, NE Yelina, TJ Hardcastle, PA Ziolkowski, GP Copenhaver, FCH Franklin. (2013). Arabidopsis meiotic crossover hot spots overlap with H2A.Z nucleosomes at gene promoters. Nat Genet 45: 1327-1336.

X Li, Y Chang, X Xin, C Zhu, X Li, JD Higgins, C Wu. (2013). Replication protein A2c coupled with replication protein A1c regulates crossover formation during meiosis in rice. The Plant Cell 25: 3885-3899.

D Phillips, J Wnetrzak, C Nibau, A Barakate, L Ramsay, F Wright, JD Higgins, RM Perry, G Jenkins. (2013). Quantitative high resolution mapping of HvMLH3 foci in barley pachytene nuclei reveals a strong distal bias and weak interference. J Exp Bot 64: 2139-2154.

JD Higgins. (2013). Analysing meiosis in barley. Plant meiosis, pp. 135-144. Humana Press, Totowa, NJ.

JD Higgins, RM Perry, A Barakate, L Ramsay, R Waugh, C Halpin, SJ Armstrong, FCH Franklin. (2012). Spatiotemporal asymmetry of the meiotic program underlies the predominantly distal distribution of meiotic crossovers in barley. The Plant Cell 24: 4096-4109.

A Knoll, JD Higgins, K Seeliger, SJ Reha, NJ Dangel, M Bauknecht, S Schröpfer, FCH Franklin, H Puchta. (2012). The Fanconi anemia ortholog FANCM ensures ordered homologous recombination in both somatic and meiotic cells in Arabidopsis. The Plant Cell 24: 1448-1464.

M Ferdous, JD Higgins, K Osman, C Lambing, E Roitinger, K Mechtler, SJ Armstrong, R Perry, M Pradillo, N Cuñado. (2012). Inter-homolog crossing-over and synapsis in Arabidopsis meiosis are dependent on the chromosome axis protein AtASY3. Plos Genet 8: e1002507.

K Osman, JD Higgins, E Sanchez‐Moran, SJ Armstrong, FCH Franklin. (2011). Pathways to meiotic recombination in Arabidopsis thaliana. New Phytologist 190: 523-544.

Z Chen, JD Higgins, JTL Hui, J Li, FCH Franklin, F Berger. (2011). Retinoblastoma protein is essential for early meiotic events in Arabidopsis. The EMBO journal 30: 744-755.

JD Higgins, M Ferdous, K Osman, FCH Franklin. (2011). The RecQ helicase AtRECQ4A is required to remove inter‐chromosomal telomeric connections that arise during meiotic recombination in Arabidopsis. The Plant Journal 65: 492-502.

JD Higgins, J Vignard, R Mercier, AG Pugh, FCH Franklin, GH Jones. (2008). AtMSH5 partners AtMSH4 in the class I meiotic crossover pathway in Arabidopsis thaliana, but is not required for synapsis. The Plant Journal 55: 28-39.

JD Higgins, EF Buckling, FCH Franklin, GH Jones. (2008). Expression and functional analysis of AtMUS81 in Arabidopsis meiosis reveals a role in the second pathway of crossing‐over. The Plant Journal 54: 152-162.

E Sanchez-Moran, K Osman, JD Higgins, M Pradillo, N Cunado, G Jones, F Franklin. (2008). ASY1 coordinates early events in the plant meiotic recombination pathway. Cytogenet Genome Res 120: 302-312.

F Franklin, JD Higgins, E Sanchez-Moran, S Armstrong, K Osman, N Jackson, G Jones. (2006). Control of meiotic recombination in Arabidopsis: role of the MutL and MutS homologues. Biochemical Society Transactions 34 542-544.

K Osman, E Sanchez-Moran, JD Higgins, GH Jones, FCH Franklin. (2006). Chromosome synapsis in Arabidopsis: analysis of the transverse filament protein ZYP1 reveals novel functions for the synaptonemal complex. Chromosoma 115: 212-219.

JD Higgins, H Newbury, D Barbara, S Muthumeenakshi, I Puddephat. (2006). The production of marker-free genetically engineered broccoli with sense and antisense ACC synthase 1 and ACC oxidases 1 and 2 to extend shelf-life. Mol Breeding 17: 7-20.

JD Higgins, E Sanchez-Moran, SJ Armstrong, GH Jones, FCH Franklin. (2005). The Arabidopsis synaptonemal complex protein ZYP1 is required for chromosome synapsis and normal fidelity of crossing over. Genes & Dev 19: 2488-2500.

E Sánchez-Morán, R Mercier, JD Higgins, S Armstrong, G Jones, F Franklin. (2005). A strategy to investigate the plant meiotic proteome. Cytogenet Genome Res 109: 181-189.

JD Higgins, SJ Armstrong, FCH Franklin, GH Jones. (2004). The Arabidopsis MutS homolog AtMSH4 functions at an early step in recombination: evidence for two classes of recombination in Arabidopsis. Genes & Dev 18: 2557-2570.

PJ Jewess, JD Higgins, KJ Berry, SR Moss, AB Boogaard, BPS Khambay. (2002). Herbicidal action of 2‐hydroxy‐3‐alkyl‐1, 4‐naphthoquinones. Pest Management Science (formerly Pesticide Science) 58: 234-242.


Dr Higgins’ group are interested in investigating factors controlling meiotic recombination in plants including Arabidopsis, barley and wheat. At the biological level this is important for plant fertility, especially with a warming climate, but also the fundamental mechanisms governing crossover number and position.

PhD projects are offered in these general areas. Applicants are encouraged to think of projects that would match their own areas of interest and complement the group’s other activities. Please contact Dr Higgins for further information or to discuss project ideas. Active PhD projects are advertised on


Dr Higgins convenes and teaches the MSc in Molecular Genetics.

Dr Higgins also teaches second year Bioinformatics and first year Biodiversity and Behaviour


Press and media

Meiosis and recombination in plants

Scientists discover a new flower of Shetland


Dr Higgins is a member of the Genetics Society and the Royal Society of Biology.


Dr Higgins recently organised the British Meiosis Meeting conference at the University of Leicester in May 2022, and has attended the EMBO Meiosis conference since 2005, the Plant and Animal Genome Conference since 2009 and Gordon Meiosis Conference since 2006. 


  • PhD, University of Birmingham (2002)
  • MSc, University of Bristol (1998)
  • BSc, University of Nottingham (1997)

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