Research Fellows Directory
Dr Ian Henderson
University of Cambridge
Increasing demands are being made on agriculture to generate higher crop yields in a sustainable manner. Harnessing natural genetic variation in crop species through breeding and genetic recombination remains a cornerstone of crop improvement. During domestication crops pass through genetic bottlenecks, meaning that wild progenitor species contain abundant variation that is useful to reintroduce, for example in disease resistance and stress tolerance. One limitation to breeding with this variation is that recombination rate is highly variable along chromosomes. For example, large regions of wheat, barley and maize chromosomes are non-recombining, despite containing useful genetic variation. We are investigating the mechanistic basis of recombination control, with the aim of rationally manipulating this process to accelerate crop breeding. As the core recombination process is highly conserved between plants, our work focuses on the model species Arabidopsis thaliana, which has extensive genetic and genomic resources. Using a novel experimental technique termed pollen-typing we have recently discovered that A.thaliana chromosomes have narrow hotspot regions with a highly elevated chance of recombination. These hotspots are located in gene promoters, where open chromatin packaging allows access to the DNA, and we hypothesize this also allows access to the recombination machinery. By understanding the features of plant chromosomes that control recombination frequency we hope to acquire knowledge whereby this process can be controlled during crop breeding. For example, by boosting recombination new varieties with useful combinations of traits will be generated with importance for food security.
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