Dr. Sandy HetheringtonBack to People

Department: Plant Sciences
College appointment: Fellow by Examination
Phone: 01865 275103


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. Sandy joined Magdalen College in October 2017 as a Fellow by Examination in Biology.


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 also 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.

Selected Publications

  • Hetherington AJ, Dolan L. 2017. The evolution of lycopsid rooting structures; conservatism and disparity. New Phytologist. 215: 538–544.
  • 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.
    *Joint first authors
  • Hetherington AJ, Dubrovsky JG, Dolan L. 2016. Unique cellular organization in the oldest root meristem. Current Biology 26: 1629–1633.
  • 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.