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Cambridge Global Food Security

An Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge


Ian Henderson studied at the University of Oxford as an undergraduate, where his botanical interests developed in the Department of Plant Sciences. In 2000 he was awarded a Gatsby Charitable Foundation Ph.D Studentship to work with Prof. Caroline Dean at the John Innes Centre, UK, where he studied the role of alternative polyadenylation in control of flowering-time. Prof. Dean's research into epigenetic control of vernalization inspired Dr Henderson to take up postdoctoral research with Prof. Steve Jacobsen at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2004. At UCLA Dr Henderson investigated mechanisms of RNA-directed DNA methylation and its role in control of gene expression, supported by EMBO and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Fellowships.

In 2008 Dr Henderson returned to the UK as a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Gatsby Resident Fellow in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Since 2020 he is Professor of Genetics and Epigenetics in the Department of Plant Sciences, where he teaches plant genetics and its application to food security. Research in the Henderson laboratory investigates genetic and epigenetic control of meiotic recombination in plant genomes. 


Dr Henderson is interested in understanding plant sexual reproduction and the processes that generate variation between generations. Specifically, in the meiotic cell division where gametes are generated with half the number of chromosomes. During meiosis parental chromosomes are reshuffled to produce new combinations of genetic variation. This has a profound effect on patterns of natural genetic variation and is a vital tool in agriculture and crop breeding.

Patterns of recombination are non-random along plant chromosomes, and Dr Henderson is interested in defining the mechanisms that control these patterns. For example -  testing whether epigenetic organisation of the genome contributes to recombination control. Consistent with this Dr Henderson has found associations between chromatin and recombination at both whole chromosome and hotspot scales. He has also found that in addition to shaping patterns of genetic polymorphism, recombination is also itself modulated by sequence differences.

Using genetics and genomics he hopes to understand mechanisms acting during plant heredity, how they influence species evolution and how they can be applied during crop improvement.

Current projects include:

Mapping recombination hotspots

Recombination is not evenly distributed and mostly occurs in narrow hotspots. Using experimental and population genetics we have generated hotspot maps and using this information the aim is to understand the control of hotspot locations.

Does epigenetic information control recombination?

Plant chromosomes and gene expression are controlled by epigenetic information, beyond the primary DNA sequence. Using genetics  epigenetic information is being modified to test its role in controlling recombination.

Natural genetic variation and crossover

In addition to reshuffling genetic variation, the recombination process can be directly influenced by sequence polymorphism. Using natural genetic diversity Dr Henderson aims to  explore these interactions.


Head of Group, Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance in Plants, Department of Plant Science
Dr Ian  Henderson

Contact Details

Email address: 
01223 748977
Not available for consultancy


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