Dr Sandy Hetherington

UKRI Future Leaders Fellow


2020 UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh

2017 Junior Research Fellow, Magdalen College, University of Oxford

2017 Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford


2017 DPhil Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford

2012 MSci Geology, University of Bristol

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Research summary

During the past 500 million years land plants have evolved a staggering variety of diverse forms and intricate functions that have enabled them to colonise and transform the Earth. The aim of my research is to understand the key innovations that enabled the conquest of the land by plants. In my group The Molecular Palaeobotany and Evolution Group we make the most of all available data to shed light on the origin and evolution of key innovations during plant evolution including evidence from fossils, studies of development from living species and comparative omics approaches. Using this interdisciplinary approach can shed light on the evolution of land plants in a way that would not be possible from isolated approaches alone.

Current research interests

400 Million Years of Food Transport in Plants: unearthing the origin, diversity and genetic toolkit of vasculature. Plants require an internal conducting network to transport food and water around their bodies. This conducting network is termed vasculature and consists of two tissues, water conducting xylem and food conducting phloem. The acquisition of these tissues during plant evolution was key for the origin of trees and crops from tiny moss-like ancestors. Despite the importance of the phloem for transporting sugars throughout plants we know almost nothing about its evolution or how it may respond to climate change. The aim for my fellowship is to study the evolution of the phloem over its 400 million year history.

Clark JW, Hetherington AJ, Morris JL, Pressel S, Duckett J, Puttick MN, Schneider H, Kenrick P, Wellman CH, Donoghue PCJ. 2023 Evolution of phenotypic disparity in the plant kingdom. Nature Plants. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-023-01513-x

Turner HA, Humpage M, Kerp H, Hetherington AJ. 2023. Leaves and sporangia developed in rare non-Fibonacci spirals in early leafy plants. Science. 380: 1188-1192. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.adg4014

Clark JW, Harris BJ, Hetherington AJ, Hurtado-Castano N, Brench RA, Casson S, Williams TA, Gray JE, Hetherington AM. 2022. The origin and evolution of stomata. Current Biology. 32: R539-R553. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.04.040 

Reinert T, Hetherington AJ. 2022. An expedition to a tropical Arctic. Current Biology. 32: R343-R344. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.03.032

Serra A, Mähönen AP, Hetherington AJ, Ragni L. 2022. The making of a plant armor: the periderm. Annual Review of Plant Biology. 73: 5.1–5.28. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-arplant-102720-031405

Hetherington AJ, Bridson SL, Lee Jones A, Hass H, Kerp H, Dolan L. 2021. An evidence-based 3D reconstruction of Asteroxylon mackiei the most complex plant preserved from the Rhynie chert. eLife. 10:e69447. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.69447

Hetherington AJ, Emms DM, Kelly S, Dolan L. 2020. Gene expression data support the hypothesis that Isoetes rootlets are true roots and not modified leaves. Scientific Reports. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-78171-y (bioRxiv. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/2019.12.16.878298)

Hetherington AJ. 2020. New views on old seeds: a new description of Genomosperma sheds light on early seed evolution. New Phytologist. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.16875

Hetherington AJ, Berry CM, Dolan L. 2020. Multiple origins of dichotomous and lateral branching during root evolution. Nature Plants. 6: 454-459. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-020-0646-y

Edgecombe GD, Strullu-Derrien C, Hetherington AJ, Goral T, Thompson C, Koch M. 2020. Aquatic stem-group myriapods close a gap between molecular divergence dates and the terrestrial fossil record. PNAS. 117: 8966–8972. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1920733117

Cannell N, Emms DM, Hetherington AJ, MacKay J, Kelly S, Dolan L, Sweetlove LJ. 2020. Multiple metabolic innovations and losses are associated with major transitions in land plant evolution. Current Biology. 30: 1-18. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.02.086

Hetherington AJ, Emms DM, Kelly S, Dolan L. 2019. Gene expression data support the hypothesis that Isoetes rootlets are true roots and not modified leaves. bioRxiv. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/2019.12.16.878298

Delaux P-M, Hetherington AJ, Coudert Y, Delwiche C, Dunand C, Gould S, Kenrick P, Li F-W, Philippe H, Rensing SA, Rich M, Strullu-Derrien C, de Vries J. 2019. Reconstructing trait evolution: A guideline for plant evo-devo studies (and beyond). Current Biology. 29: R1110-R1118. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.09.044

Hetherington AJ. Evolution of plant rooting systems. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: Chichester. 2019. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470015902.a0028341

Hetherington AJ, Dolan L. 2019. Evolution: Diversification of Angiosperm Rooting Systems In the Early Cretaceous. Current Biology. 29: PR1081-R1083. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.08.030

Isner JC, Olteanu VA, Hetherington AJ, Coupel-Ledru A, Sun P, Pridgeon AJ, Jones GS, Oates M, Williams TA, Maathuis FJM, Kift R, Webb AR, Gough J, Franklin KA, Hetherington AM. 2019. Short- and Long-Term Effects of UVA on Arabidopsis Are Mediated by a Novel cGMP Phosphodiesterase. Current Biology. 29: 2580-2585. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.06.071

Hetherington AJ*, DiMichele WA, Lucas SG, Voigt S. 2019. Tiny rhizomorphic rooting systems from the early Permian Abo Formation of New Mexico, USA. International Journal of Plant Sciences. 180: 504-512. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/702759

Bonnot C, Hetherington AJ, Champion C, Breuninger H, Kelly S, Dolan L. 2019. Neofunctionalisation of basic helix loop helix proteins occurred when plants colonised the land. New Phytologist. 223: 993-1008. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.15829

Hetherington AJ, Dolan L. 2019. Rhynie chert fossils demonstrate the independent origin and gradual evolution of lycophyte roots. Current Opinion in Plant Biology. 47:119–126. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbi.2018.12.001

Hetherington AJ, Dolan L. 2018. Stepwise and independent origins of roots among land plants. Nature. 561: 235–238. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0445-z

Nishiyama T, Sakayama H, de Vries J, Buschmann H, Saint-Marcoux D, Ullrich KK, Haas FB, Vanderstraeten L, Becker D, Lang D et al. 2018. The Chara genome: secondary complexity and implications for plant terrestrialization. Cell. 174: 448-464. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2018.06.033

Hetherington AJ, Dolan L. 2018. Bilaterally symmetric axes with rhizoids composed the rooting structure of the common ancestor of vascular plants. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 373: 20170042. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2017.0042

Bowman JL, Kohchi T, Yamato KT, Jenkins J, Shu S, Ishizaki K, Yamaoka S, Nishihama R, Nakamura Y, Berger F et al. 2017. Insights into land plant evolution garnered from the Marchantia

polymorpha genome. Cell. 171: 287-304. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2017.09.030

Hetherington AJ, Dolan L. 2017. The evolution of lycopsid rooting structures; conservatism and disparity. New Phytologist. 215: 538–544. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.14324

Bonnot C, Proust H, Pinson B, Colbalchini F, Lesly-Veillard A, Breuninger H, Morieri G, Champion C, Hetherington AJ, Kelly S, Dolan L. 2017. Functional PTB phosphate transporters are present in streptophyte algae and early diverging land plants. New Phytologist. 214: 1158–1171. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.14431

Honkanen S, Jones VA, Morieri G, Champion C, Hetherington AJ, Kelly S, Saint-Marcoux D, Proust H, Prescott H, Dolan L. 2016. Mechanisms controlling the formation of the plant cell surface in tip-growing cells are functionally conserved among land plants. Current Biology. 26: 3238–3244. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.09.062

Catarino B, Hetherington AJ, Emms DM, Kelly S, Dolan L. 2016. The stepwise increase in the number of transcription factor families in the Precambrian predated the diversification of plants on land. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 33: 2815–2819. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msw155

Hetherington AJ, Dubrovsky JG, Dolan L. 2016. Unique cellular organization in the oldest root meristem. Current Biology 26: 1629–1633. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.072

Hetherington AJ, Berry CM, Dolan L. 2016. Networks of highly branched stigmarian rootlets developed on the first giant trees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113: 6695–6700. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1514427113

Hetherington AJ, Sherratt E, Ruta M, Wilkinson M, Deline B, Donoghue PC. 2015. Do cladistic and morphometric data capture common patterns of morphological disparity? Palaeontology. 58: 393–399. DOI: https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1111/pala.12159