Hetherington Lab


Who we are

Dr Sandy Hetherington (PI of the Molecular Palaeobotany and Evolution Group)

Sandy Hetherington standing in front of a table with fossils, holding a fossil in left hand

I am an evolutionary palaeobiologist interested in how plants evolved to conquer the land. I work at the interface between the Life and Earth Sciences to study the evolution of plant development.


I studied an MSci in Geology at the University of Bristol (2008-2012) and became fascinated by the evolution of land plants. In 2012 I moved to the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford to undertake my DPhil with Prof Liam Dolan on the evolution of lycophyte roots. My thesis was awarded the Irene Manton Prize in 2018 for the best thesis in Botany by the Linnean Society. After my DPhil I remained in Oxford, first as a postdoctoral researcher (2017) and then a Junior Research Fellow at Magdalen College (2017-2020) continuing my work on root evolution. For my work on root evolution I was named the Palaeontological Association Exceptional Lecturer for 2020-2021. In October 2020 I moved to the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences (IMPS) at the University of Edinburgh to establish my research group supported by a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. Since 2020 we have been building capacity in the lab to carry out our Molecular Palaeobotany research including facilities for both molecular biology and work with fossils. The research in the group has also expanded from our primary focus on root and phloem evolution to cover the evolution of shoots, phyllotaxis and the development of a new model lycophyte species. This work has been supported by funding from The Royal Society, ERC and Human Frontiers Science Programme and most recently through the award of a Philip Leverhulme Prize.  

Erica de Leau (Research Lab Manager)

Photograph of Erica de Leau



Erica joined the lab in February 2021 funding by the UKRI. She will be leading on research to investigate the evolution of the phloem and acting as lab manager for the group. 

Dr Rafael Cruz (Postdoc)

Photograph of Rafael Cruz holding the fern psilotum


Rafael joined the lab in January 2022 as a PostDoc. He is working on lycophyte and fern evolution and development, focused on genes related to phloem development in Selaginella and other plants. He is particularly interested in plants with unusual morphologies. Find out more about Rafael's work and interested on his website: http://rafaeldscruz.com/

Dr Ana Julia (Anajú) Sagasti (Postdoc)

Portrait headshot of Anajú


Anajú joined the lab in April 2024 as a PostDoc. She is working on the evolution of apical growth in early land plants with a focus on the Rhynie chert. Anajú has been working on palaeobotany and palaeoecology of fossil hot springs since her PhD and is particularly interested in the anatomical traits of fossil plants, and how plants interact with microorganisms.

Laura Cooper (PhD Student)

Head shot profile picture of Laura cooper


Laura joined the lab in September 2021 to conduct a PhD on phloem in the Rhynie chert fossils and living lycophytes, following an undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford.

Zishan (Sannie) Fu (PhD Student)

Head shot profile picture of Sannie Fu


Sannie joined the lab in October 2021 to do her PhD. She is working on phloem evolution with a focus on ferns and gymnosperms. She completed a Bachelor’s degree in Zhejiang University and an MRes in Imperial College.

Tea Reinert (PhD Student)

Head shot profile picture of Tea Reinert


Tea joined the lab in October 2021 and is a PhD student researching phloem evolution in angiosperms and gymnosperms. She completed her undergraduate and Research Masters at National University of Ireland, Galway. 

Jeremy Wyman (Palaeontology and Geobiology MScR Student)

Jeremy Wyman sitting at computer


Jeremy joined the lab in September 2023, he is working on the fossil plants from the Carboniferous fossil site Oxroad Bay locality



Erin Ryan (Visiting Student)

Headshot of Erin Ryan


Erin is an undergraduate student at the University of Glasgow doing a 4th year Msci Biochemistry (Hons). Erin joined the lab in September 2023 for one year as a visiting research student working on phloem evolution in ferns, focussing on Ceratopteris.

Undergraduate and Masters Students

Masters Students

2021-2022 Dylan Hundleby (Palaeontology and Geobiology MScR, School of Geosciences)

2021: LuLi (RBGE Masters)


Honours Project students

2023: Kuo Xu

2022: Jenn Westermann and Beth Mitchell (Anderson Henry Prize and Lang Scholarship Prize)

2021: Holly-Anne Turner (Botanical Society of Scotland Student Prize)


Undergraduate Summer Students

2021: Jenn Westermann

2019/2020: Anna Jones and Siobhán Bridson (Department of Plant Sciences, Oxford)

Lab Alumni

Holly-Anne Turner Holly-Anne joined the lab in January 2021 to do her undergraduate honours project and on completion of this she worked as a Research assistant until April 2022.

Lab Photos

2024 Lab Photo outside the Rutherford Building, Kings Buildings, University of Edinburgh

Group photo of eight members of the Hetherington lab standing outside in front of a tree with pink blossum


2023 Lab Photo

Group photo of six members of the Hetherington standing outside


2022 Lab trip to Fossil Grove, Glasgow

Group photo of five members of the Hetherington lab at the fossil grove fossil site in Glasgow


2022 Lab picnic on Blackford Hill to Celebrate Beth and Jenn finishing their projects

Members of the Hetherington lab sitting outside for a picnic with a view over Edinburgh


2021 Lab visit to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Photograph of the members of the Hetherington lab at Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh