Dr Alexander (Sandy) Hetherington is an evolutionary biologist whose research spans the study of both extant and extinct plant species. Sandy carried out an MSci in Geology at the University of Bristol before moving to St Catherine’s College Oxford to undertake his DPhil. His DPhil was part of the Interdisciplinary Bioscience Doctoral Training Programme with his primary research project undertaken in the Department of Plant Sciences under the supervision of Prof. Liam Dolan. Sandy’s thesis titled the “Evolution and morphology of lycophyte root systems” was awarded the Irene Manton Prize from the Linnean Society of London. On completing his DPhil he was awarded a junior research fellowship from Magdalen College. Sandy is now based at the University of Edinburgh.
The aim of Sandy’s current research is to uncover the origin and early diversification of plant roots – an organ whose origin made profound changes to the terrestrial landscape and was essential for plants to evolve the tree life habit. Studying the exceptionally preserved fossil plants in the 407 million year old Rhynie Chert, and comparing the characters of their rooting systems with those of living plants, Sandy aims to reconstruct the anatomy and development of the rooting system present in the first vascular plants.