Dr James Higgins

Associate Professor

James Higgins

Office 317, lab 319 Adrian Building

+44 (0)116 223 1296

Email: JH555@le.ac.uk

Twitter: @jamesdhiggins76

Personal details

BSc (Hons) University of Nottingham, MSc University of Bristol, PhD University of Birmingham, CBiol, MRSB.

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 L.) 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 I'm 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.


Google ScholarresearchgateImmunolocalisation technique in Arabidopsis, ORCid profile, Monogram website.


Molecular cell biology of plant sexual reproduction: My aim is to understand how the number and distribution of genetic crossovers are controlled by interacting meiotic proteins in Arabidopsis and crop species, including cereals. This involves analysis of genetic and epigenetic factors that have been selected by evolution to maintain genome integrity.

Current areas of research

The main 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 about 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 (see figure below) and we aim to further elucidate and translate this knowledge into breeding programmes. In Arabidopsis only ~5% of double strand break sites that initiate meiotic recombination are repaired as crossovers and in wheat this is only ~2%. Crossover designation is non-random and finely tuned to ensure that all DNA is accurately repaired, with at least one crossover per chromosome pair. This is even more complex in polyploid wheat that contains sub-genomes of homoeologous chromosomes. We have identified the main enzymes essential for repairing DNA, but do not understand how the decision processes are mediated. Our aim is to gain insight into the regulation of meiotic recombination in plants as well as identifying novel genes essential for this process.

SC figure

We have ongoing collaborations with Prof. Chris Franklin (University of Birmingham), Dr. Levi Yant (University of Nottingham), Dr. Xiaoqi Feng (JIC), Dr. Ian Henderson (University of Cambridge), Prof. Keith Edwards (University of Bristol), Prof. Anthony Hall (Earlham Institute) and Prof. Wanqi Liang (Shanghai Jiao Tong University).

PhD Opportunities

Self-funded students can apply at anytime to do a PhD by contacting me and can conduct projects on Arabidopsis, barley or wheat (JH555@leicester.ac.uk).

Post-Doctoral researchers

Dr. Stuart Desjardins

Stuart cropIn many eukaryotic species genetic crossovers (COs) are unevenly distributed along chromosomes and tend to occur in favoured regions - so-called "recombination hot-spots". This is true of bread wheat, and other cereals, where COs are largely restricted to regions near the ends of chromosomes. A direct result of this is that a significant proportion of genes (~30%), including potentially important agronomic traits, are located in "recombination cold" regions and essentially inaccessible to plant breeders. A lack of COs in these "cold" regions can also lead to problems associated with linkage drag, where undesirable variation cannot be separated from useful traits. My project is part of a multi-disciplinary research program that aims to release this "locked" variation by modulating the frequency and distribution of COs in wheat, using state-of-the-art approaches.




Doctoral researchers

Chiara Di Dio


Press releases

Breakthrough study reveals new insight into "immortal" plant cells

Leicester scientists in discovery of new type of plant

New University of Leicester study to improve crop plants

University of Leicester geneticist in major project to breed new varieties of wheat


Our outreach work for BBSRC funded projects aims to explain the process of meiotic recombination in wheat. We presented posters and the chromosome model at Dynamic DNA at the University of Leicester 7-8th September, 2016. Over 400 local school children mixed and matched the wheat chromosome agronomical traits using the model, to see if they could generate a new super variety of wheat.

Higgins group photo

Gene shuffling poster JHgene shuffling poster

dd poster

Gene shuffling model

To see a video of the model go to (Gene shuffling model) and you may need to turn the sound up!



















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Contact Details

Department of Genetics
University of Leicester

Adrian Building
University Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)116 252 3374
E Mail: genetics@le.ac.uk

Head of Department
Professor Jacqui Shaw

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