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Professor Alistair Hetherington

Professor Alistair Hetherington

Professor Alistair Hetherington
B.Sc., Ph.D.(St.And.)

Melville Wills Chair in Botany

Area of research

Guard Cell Group

Office Life Sciences: 315
Life Sciences Building,
24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 39 41188


The research in my group centres on understanding, at the cellular level, how plants respond to a changing environment. Specifically we are interested in identifying the individual components present in the intracellular signalling pathways responsible for coupling extracellular stimuli to their characteristic responses. To investigate this we focus on stomata, the pores found on the surfaces of leaves. Environmental signals regulate both stomatal development and the aperture of the stomatal pore and our current interests lie in the regulation of stomatal aperture and development by carbon dioxide, ABA and changes in atmospheric relative humidity. At the cellular level we maintain a strong interest in calcium-based intracellular signalling with ongoing research into long chain phosphorylated sphingoid base signalling and the mechanisms responsible for encoding information in, and decoding information from, stimulus-induced calcium elevations (calcium signatures). More recently, through our work on stomatal evolution, we have started to focus more on the evolution of signalling pathways. Although most of our work has been in Arabidopsis, recently we have worked on the model lower plant Selaginella and extended our work to barley and wheat. The cereal work, which we carry out with colleagues at Bristol and elsewhere, is very much in the context of Food Security where we are interested in investigating the potential of modifying stomatal behaviour and development with the aim of improving water use efficiency. This later area relates to Living With Environment Change research and here we are also interested, together with other colleagues at Bristol, in using crop albedo as a possible bio-geoengineering strategy to combat global warming.

Topics I am interested in:

  • guard cell signalling
  • the control of stomatal development by environmental signals
  • sphingosine-based signalling
  • the role of calcium as an intracellular second messenger
  • the evolution of intracellular signalling systems
  • the evolution of stomata
  • improving crop water use efficiency
  • crop albedo bio-geoengineering

Further information about my research can be found on the home page of my group.


Alistair Hetherington is Melville Wills Professor of Botany in the University of Bristol


I graduated from the University of St Andrews with a BSc in Botany in 1979 and remained there to carry out research leading to a PhD (1982) under the supervision of Prof Bob Crawford (Botany) and Dr Ian Hunter (Biochemistry) in the area of lipid metabolism under anoxic stress. After St Andrews I moved to the University of Edinburgh for two years where I carried out post-doctoral research with Prof Tony Trewavas FRS on calcium activated protein kinases. This appointment stimulated my interest in intracellular signalling and in 1984 I moved to the University of Lancaster as a “New Blood Lecturer”.  At Lancaster I collaborated with Prof Terry Mansfield FRS who introduced me to guard cells, and as a result, investigating signal transduction in these cells has been the major focus of my research ever since. In 1994 I was appointed to a personal Chair in Plant Cell Physiology at Lancaster and twelve years later, in 2006, I was appointed to the Melville Wills Chair of Botany at the University of Bristol.  I am currently Research Director for the Faculty of Science.

Awards, Honours and Distinctions

In 1985, while at Lancaster, I was awarded a French Government (CRNS) “Poste Rouge” visiting appointment to carry out cell signalling research in the University Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, in association with Prof Raoul Ranjeva.  In 1991 I was awarded the President’s Medal (Cell Biology) of the Society for Experimental Biology and in 2001-2002 was appointed to a Christensen Visiting Fellowship at St Catherine’s College Oxford.  More recently I was a Visiting Professor at the Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra (2008).  Currently I am a Visiting Professor at University College Dublin, Ireland, a Chair (Visiting) Professor at Tianjin Agricultural University, Tianjin and a Chair (Visiting) Professor at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, both the latter in China.  I am a Fellow of the Linnean Society and the Society of Biology.  Some of my other activities are listed under the impact tab.   

International Lab

I have strong links with a number of Universities in China (see above). With Prof Xiaodong Xie from Tianjin Agricultural University (TJAU) I have established the Bristol-Tianjin joint lab at TJAU for investigating the effects of climate change on crops.  




I teach at the first, second, third and graduate levels.  In first year I teach on the "Life Processes" course where I give 9 lectures and three practicals designed to introduce membranes and cell signalling. I continue this with 5 lectures in the Cell and Developmental Biology course in second year, while in third year I supervise honours laboratory research projects. At the graduate level I teach, jointly with Prof Innes Cuthill modules on "Scientific Publishing" and "How Research is Funded"


  • stomata
  • Arabidopsis
  • guard cell
  • intracellular signalling
  • calcium signalling
  • stomatal development
  • stomatal evolution
  • wheat
  • barley
  • Food Security
  • Living With Environment Change
  • responses to ABA
  • responses to carbon dioxide
  • responses to changes in atmospheric relative humidity


  • plant physiology
  • plant cell physiology
  • infrared thermal imaging
  • mutant screens
  • molecular physiology
  • imaging

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Networks & contacts

  • Prof Dr Joerg Kudla University of Muenster Germany
  • Prof Julian Schroeder UCSD USA
  • Dr Josette Masle and Prof Graham Farquhar ANU Australia
  • Prof Julie Gray University of Sheffield UK
  • Prof Marc Knight University of Durham UK
  • Prof Xiaodong Xie Tianjin Agricultural University Tianjin China
  • Dr Yun Kuan Liang Wuhan University China
  • Prof Guangyuan He HUST Wuhan China

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