UCL Division of Biosciences

Dr Hernan A. Burbano Roa

Dr Hernan A. Burbano Roa

Associate Professor of Ancient Plant Genomics

Genetics, Evolution & Environment

Div of Biosciences

Joined UCL
1st Aug 2019

Research summary

Hernán uses a retrospective approach to address a broad range of questions in the evolution of plants and their pathogens. This approach gains its power from obtaining direct observations from the past by sequencing historical and ancient samples and combining them with present-day genomic information. Hernán has pioneered the use of herbarium specimens and plant archaeological remains for evolutionary genomics studies using standards and techniques akin to the ones that have been successfully used in human ancient genomics. Hernán has studied organisms as diverse as modern humans, ancient hominins, plants, and plant and animal pathogens. Currently, Hernán’s research focuses on three main topics: the dynamics of past and present plant-pathogen epidemics; the identification and timing of key events in crop domestication and the spread of agriculture; and the colonization of new ecological niches by invasive/introduced species.

Teaching summary

Hernán organizes the module Methods in Ecology and Evolution (BIOL0006), in which he introduces students to fundamental concepts in evolution and the R programming language. Hernán also contributes to the module Plant Ecology and Evolution (BIOL0042) with lectures on plant domestication and plant-pathogen interactions, and the module Fundamentals of Molecular Biology (BIOL0008) with a lecture on ancient DNA.


Universitat Leipzig
Doctorate, Doctor rerum naturalium | 2012
Universidad Nacional Colombia
Other higher degree, Master of Science | 2006
Universidad Nacional Colombia
Doctorate, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine | 2002


Hernán studied veterinary medicine and biology (1996-2016) at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá. He moved afterward to the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where he worked on ancient genomics of humans and archaic hominins under the supervision of Svante Pääbo and Michael Lachmann. Hernán obtained a Ph.D. in evolutionary genetics from the University of Leipzig in 2012. Hernán then relocated as a postdoctoral researcher (2012-2014) at the MPI for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen, Germany, under the supervision of Detlef Weigel. There, he integrated plant evolutionary genomics and ancient DNA. From 2014 to 2019, Hernán led the Research Group for Ancient Genomics and Evolution at the MPI for Developmental Biology, before joining the UCL Centre for Life ́s Origins and Evolution in 2019. In 2019, Hernán was awarded a Royal Society Wolfson Fellowship, a scheme jointly funded by the Royal Society and the Wolfson Foundation that enables the recruitment of outstanding research leaders to the UK from overseas. In 2020, Hernán was honored with a Philip Leverhulme Prize for outstanding contributions to Biological Sciences.