Natasha Yelina

Natasha Yelina

Head of Crop Breeding Technologies Group, Cawthorn Senior Researcher of Crop Science

Research group: Crop breeding technologies

Natasha Yelina


Natasha studies plant meiosis – a specialized cell division during sexual reproduction that results in gametes (egg and sperm) with half the genetic material of mother cells. Meiosis is unique because during meiosis parental chromosomes physically exchange parts, or recombine. This leads to new trait combinations in offspring and this genetic variation is the basis for selective crop breeding. Despite their importance for breeding, meiotic recombination events, or crossovers, are limiting: they are low in numbers (1-3 per chromosome per meiosis) and are unevenly distributed along chromosomes. As a result, not all traits are equally amenable to reassortment via recombination. Natasha’s work contributed to our understanding of the mechanisms of recombination control and highlighted the role of epigenetic marks (cytosine DNA and histone methylation) in shaping crossover frequency landscapes along chromosomes.

Natasha received her BA, MSc and PhD from the Department of Virology at Moscow State University in Russia where she worked on RNA silencing in plant-virus interactions. Over the following years, she received Royal Society/NATO, EMBO and Broodbank Postdoctoral Fellowships to join Prof Sir David Baulcombe’s and Prof Ian Henderson’s labs in the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich and Department of Plant Sciences in Cambridge, respectively, to pursue her interests in RNA silencing, epigenetics and plant meiosis. More recently, she contributed to research in Prof Julian Hibberd’s lab at the Department of Plant Sciences in Cambridge where she used Marchantia polymorpha to identify ancestral and non-ancestral pathways regulating chloroplast biogenesis and greening. She is now head of Crop Breeding Technologies Group at the Crop Science Centre where her overarching aim is to discover novel approaches to control meiotic recombination and, building on this fundamental knowledge, develop step-changing technologies to accelerate crop breeding.

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