Dr Ilia J. Leitch

Assistant Head of Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology Department and Senior Research Leader of Character Evolution


Job title: 
Assistant Head of Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology Department and Senior Research Leader of Character Evolution
Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology
Foreign languages: 
Research profiles:


I lead a team of Kew scientists investigating character evolution in plants. We conduct research aimed at identifying and understanding (i) how different plant traits interact and evolve to generate the diversity of plant life, and (ii) how key characters influence, or are influenced by, global environmental change. The particular characters currently under study range across all levels of plant organization from the genomic to the whole plant level.

My own research is focused on genomic characters such as genome size, chromosome organization, and DNA repeats (see project: Uncovering the genomic diversity of plants) to (i) understand the origin, evolution and biological significance of the immense diversity of genomic characters across land plants, and (ii) determine how these characters impact at the whole plant level to influence how, when, and where plants grow and respond to global change.

I am also involved in the Plant and Fungal Trees of Life strategic 2020 output and collate genome size data for the Plant DNA C-values database.


Qualifications and appointments: 
  • BSc (Hons), Univ. Bristol, 1985
  • PhD, Univ. Bristol, 1990


Selected publications: 

Hidalgo, O., Pellicer, J., Christenhusz, M.J.M., Schneider, H., Leitch, A.R., Leitch, I.J. (2017) Is there an upper limit to genome size? Trends in Plant Science 22: 567-573.

Guignard, M.S., Nichols, R.A., Knell, R.J., Macdonald, A., Romila, C-A., Trimmer, M., Leitch, I.J., Leitch, A.R. (2016).  Genome size and ploidy influence angiosperm species' biomass under nitrogen and phosphorus limitation. New Phytologist 210: 1195-1206. Available online.

Macas, J., Novák, P., Pellicer, J., Čížková, J., Koblížková, A., Neumann, P., Fuková, I., Doležel, J., Kelly, L.J., Leitch, I.J. (2015).  In depth characterization of repetitive DNA in 23 plant genomes reveals sources of genome size variation in the legume tribe Fabeae. PLoS ONE 10: e0143424. Available online.

Ma, L., Hatlen, A., Kelly, L.J., Becher, H., Wang, W., Kovarik, A.R., Leitch, I.J., Leitch, A.R. (2015).  Angiosperms are unique among land plant lineages in the occurrence of key genes in the RNA-directed DNA Methylation (RdDM) pathway. Genome Biology and Evolution 7: 2648-2662. Available online.

Dodsworth, S., Leitch, A.R., Leitch, I.J. (2015).  Genome size diversity in angiosperms and its influence on gene space. Current Opinion in Genetics & Development 35: 73-78. Available online.

Kelly, L.J., Renny-Byfield, S., Pellicer, J., Macas, .J, Novák, P., Neumann, P., Lysak, M.A., Day, P.D., Berger, M., Fay, M.F., Nichols, R.A., Leitch, A.R., Leitch, I.J. (2015).  Analysis of the giant genomes of Fritillaria (Liliaceae) indicates that a lack of DNA removal characterizes extreme expansions in genome size. New Phytologist 208: 596-607. Available online.

For a full list of publications see: ResearchGate, Google Scholar or ORCiD

Further information

Email: i.leitch@kew.org

Telephone: + 44 (0) 208 332 5329

Further reading:

The Plant DNA C-values database comprises the most comprehensive compilation of genome size data for land plants and algae available on the internet. The latest release 7.0 (Release 7.0, December 2017) contains data for over 12,000 species.