Professor Kirsten Bomblies

Project Leader Genes in the Environment


Kirsten works on understanding the evolution of meiosis, particularly recombination and chromosome segregation.

Kirsten is particularly interested in how plants stabilise these processes during adaptation to environmental stresses (especially temperature) and genome duplication events (polyploidy).

The use of genome sequencing has allowed Kirsten to identify the genes involved in these stabilisation processes and follow-up genetic, structural, and biochemical work is in progress.

  • Genome stabilisation during stress and genome duplication events
  • Super resolution microscopy for detailed chromosome imaging and protein labelling
  • Thermostability during meiosis and genetic resilience

Kirsten is interested in understanding how the genes that control meiosis evolve in response to genome duplication and environmental stresses.

Meiosis is a specialised type of cell division, which results in gametes or sex cells. These cells have half the number of chromosomes normally found in the organism and are essential for fertility in most sexually reproducing species.

She uses Arabidopsis arenosa as her model to study the evolution of meiosis, which is a close relative to the commonly used model organism, Arabidopsis thaliana.

A. arenosa is widely distributed in Europe, across a range of temperatures and habitats, so is well suited to understanding how temperature and habitat affect meiosis.

Her lab has identified strains that differ in their temperature tolerance of meiosis. In addition, many natural populations of A. arenosa are also tetraploid, meaning they have 4 copies of each chromosome, while others are diploid (with only 2 copies of each chromosome, like humans). The tetraploid lineage has solved the initial problems faced after genome duplication and is fully fertile, and so provides a good model to study the evolution of meiotic stability in the face of genome change.

Through her work on the evolution of meiosis, Prof Bomblies hopes to discover which genes are important in the adaption of meiosis to genome duplication (after which there is twice the content of DNA to deal with) or a change in temperature.

She also hopes to find out how the genes in question were functionally changed in the process, and how the fact that they interact with one other to build complex three-dimensional structures affects their evolution.

Prof Bomblies started her research career as a research assistant, before embarking on a PhD studying the history of maize domestication at the University of Wisconsin. After this, she worked as a postdoc at the Max Plank Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen studying the evolution of autoimmunity in plants. Since 2009 she has managed her lab at Harvard University where she initiated her work on the evolution of meiosis in response to habitat change and genome duplication, which she will continue at the John Innes Centre.