Dr James Higgins

Associate Professor

School/Department: Genetics and Genome Biology, Department of

Telephone: +44 (0)116 2231296


Address: Adrian Building, University Road, Leicester. LE1 7RH


Google Scholar

UKRI Grants


I received a BSc (Hons) in Biology from the University of Nottingham (1997) where I developed an interest in plant genetics. I pursued applying this knowledge to improve plant varieties by undertaking an MSc in Crop protection at the University of Bristol (1998). This was followed by a PhD at HRI-Warwick to understand and potentially delay the post-harvest yellowing of broccoli (2002). As a post-doctoral fellow I worked in the groups of Professor Chris Franklin and Dr. Gareth Jones (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. I became a lecturer at the University of Leicester in 2013 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2017. I'm currently 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 our 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 and we aim to further elucidate and translate this knowledge into breeding programmes.



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

Tidy AC, Ferjentsikova I, Vizcay-Barrena G, Liu B, Yin W, Higgins JD, Jie X, Zhang D, Geelen D, Wilson ZA. (2022) Journal of Experimental Botany: doi: 10.1093/jxb/erac225

Tock AJ, Holland DM, Jiang W, Osman K, Sanchez-Moran E, Higgins JD, Edwards KJ, Uauy C, Franklin FCH, Henderson IR. 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.

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

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

Blackwell AR, Dluzewska J, Szymanska‐Lejman M, Desjardins S, Tock AJ, Kbiri N, Lambing C, Lawrence EJ, Bieluszewski T, Rowan B, Higgins JD, Ziolkowski PA, Henderson IR 2020. MSH 2 shapes the meiotic crossover landscape in relation to interhomolog polymorphism in Arabidopsis. The EMBO journal 39: e104858.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shunmugam AS, Bollina V, Dukowic-Schulze S, Bhowmik PK, Ambrose C, Higgins JD, Pozniak C, Sharpe AG, Rozwadowski K, Kagale S. 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.

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

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

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

Sepsi A, Higgins JD, Heslop‐Harrison JS, Schwarzacher T. 2017. CENH 3 morphogenesis reveals dynamic centromere associations during synaptonemal complex formation and the progression through male meiosis in hexaploid wheat. The Plant Journal 89: 235-249.

Fu M, Wang C, Xue F, Higgins J, Chen M, Zhang D, Liang W. 2016. The DNA topoisomerase VI–B Subunit OsMTOPVIB Is Essential for Meiotic Recombination Initiation in Rice. Molecular Plant 9: 1539-1541.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phillips D, Wnetrzak J, Nibau C, Barakate A, Ramsay L, Wright F, Higgins JD, Perry RM, Jenkins G. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Higgins JD, Ferdous M, Osman K, Franklin FCH. 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.

Higgins JD, Vignard J, Mercier R, Pugh AG, Franklin FCH, Jones GH. 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.

Higgins JD, Buckling EF, Franklin FCH, Jones GH. 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.

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

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

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

Higgins J, Newbury H, Barbara D, Muthumeenakshi S, Puddephat I. 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.

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

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

Higgins JD, Armstrong SJ, Franklin FCH, Jones GH. 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.

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



We are interested in investigating factors controlling meiotic recombination in plants including Arabidopsis, barley and wheat. At 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 our other activities. Please contact me for further information or to discuss project ideas. Active PhD projects are advertised on


I convene and teach the MSc in Molecular Genetics. I also teach 2nd year Bioinformatics and 1st year Biodiversity and behaviour

Press and media

Meiosis and recombination in plants


I am a member of the Genetics Society and Royal Society of Biology


I recently organised the British Meiosis Meeting conference at the University of Leicester (May 2022) and have attended the EMBO Meiosis conference since 2005, the Plant and Animal Genome Conference since 2009 and Gordon Meiosis Conference since 2006. 

Media coverage

Scientists discover a new flower of Shetland


PhD University of Birmingham (2002)

MSc University of Bristol (1998)

BSc University of Nottingham (1997)

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