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Dr Diane Lister

Dr Diane Lister

ERC Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Plant archaeogenetics

Crop genetics and environmental adaptation

Ancient and historic DNA


I completed my undergraduate degree in Botany and Zoology and the Australian National University, Canberra. Upon moving to Cambridge in 1990, I studied for an MPhil and PhD in the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Cambridge. Post-doctoral experience included 3 years in the lab of Prof Chris Howe, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, where I worked on the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas.

I have been in the McDonald Institute for the past 12 years working on crop archaeogenetics with Prof Martin Jones and other colleagues.

Subject groups/Research projects

Glyn Daniel Laboratory:

Research Interests

Food globalization in prehistory (FOGLIP)

I am one of the post-doctoral researchers employed on the multi-disciplinary ERC funded project “Food globalization in prehistory (FOGLIP)”. I am studying the spread of the Southwest Asian crops wheat and barley eastwards into East Asia.

My research involves the phylogeographical analysis of genetic diversity in barley and wheat landraces from across Eurasia. The material I work on primarily comes from germplasm collections; however, additional material from historic sources and archaeological sites allows an element of time depth to be added to the data that is generated from extant material.

Mapping the observed genetic diversity across space and time allows us to address a number of fundamental questions pertaining to the prehistoric spread of agriculture from Southwest Asia eastwards across the Eurasian continent. I am interested in the routes by which these cereals spread and the impact of environmental barriers on the transition to farming economies. My research utilizes neutral markers such as microsatellites and SNP markers associated with important domestication traits, environmental adaptation and grain quality.

Tracing the spread of cereal cultivation not only informs us about the past distributions of the plants themselves, but also the people groups that transported them.

The use of historic and ancient DNA in phylogeographic studies

Historic material is an important additional source of genetic data for phylogeographic studies of the spread of agriculture. In our study of extant and historic European cereal landrace distribution showed that extant landraces are largely confined to rugged upland areas unsuitable for mechanized agriculture. In other parts of Europe relatively few landraces survive as collections were not made before their demise and were replaced by scientifically bred varieties. Historic material collected prior to periods of significant agrarian change is able to fill in gaps in extant landrace distribution.

I have been interested in determining the degree of DNA preservation in various types of material and hence its usefulness in genetic studies. DNA extraction from straw has proved to be very difficult partly due to inhibitors found in materials such as animal dung, which is often used in daub, and smoke blackening found in mediaeval thatch. Grain from old seed banks and herbarium specimens, however, is proving to be a very good source of relatively undamaged DNA, which can be analyzed using a wide range of genetic markers including SNPs and microsatellites.

Ancient DNA from desiccated wheat from archaeological sites is an exciting source of genetic data that we are currently exploring.

Key Publications

Articles & Chapters

[1] Jones H., Lister D.L., Cai D., Kneale C.J., Cockram J., Peña-Chocarro L. and Jones M.K. (2016). The trans-Eurasian crop exchange in prehistory: Discerning pathways from barley phylogeography. Quaternary International DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2016.02.029.
[2] Liu X., Lister D.L., Zhao Z., Staff R.A., Jones P.J., Zhou L., Pokharia A.K., Petrie C.A., Pathak A., Lu H., Matuzeviciute G.M., Bates J., Pilgram T.K. and Jones M.K. (2016). The virtues of small grain size: Potential pathways to a distinguishing feature of Asian wheats. Quaternary International DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2016.02.059.
[3] Brown T.A., Cappellini E., Kistler L., Lister D.L., Oliveira H.R., Wales N. and Schlumbaum A. (2014). Recent advances in ancient DNA research and their implications for archaeobotany. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 24(1), 207-214. DOI: 10.1007/s00334-014-0489-4.
[4] Oliveira H.R., Hagenblad J., Leino M.W., Leigh F.J., Lister D.L., Penã-Chocarro L. and Jones M.K. (2014). Wheat in the Mediterranean revisited--tetraploid wheat landraces assessed with elite bread wheat Single Nucleotide Polymorphism markers.. BMC Genet DOI: 10.1186/1471-2156-15-54.
[5] Jones G., Charles M.P., Jones M.K., Colledge S., Leigh F.J., Lister D.A., Smith L.M.J., Powell W., Brown T.A. and Jones H. (2013). DNA evidence for multiple introductions of barley into Europe following dispersed domestications in western Asia. Antiquity, 87(337), 701-713.
[6] Lister D.L., Jones H., Jones M.K., O'Sullivan D.M. and Cockram J. (2013). Analysis of DNA polymorphism in ancient barley herbarium material: Validation of the KASP SNP genotyping platform. Taxon, 62(4), 779-789. DOI: 10.12705/624.9.
[7] Lister D.L. and Jones M.K. (2013). Is naked barley an eastern or a western crop? The combined evidence of archaeobotany and genetics. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 22(5), 439-446. DOI: 10.1007/s00334-012-0376-9.
[8] Campana M.G., Lister D.L., Whitten C.M., Edwards C.J., Stock F., Barker G. and Bower M.A. (2012). Complex relationships between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA preservation in historical DNA extracts. Archaeometry, 54(1), 193-202. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4754.2011.00606.x.
[9] Jones G., Jones H., Charles M.P., Jones M.K., Colledge S., Leigh F.J., Lister D.A., Smith L.M.J., Powell W. and Brown T.A. (2012). Phylogeographic analysis of barley DNA as evidence for the spread of Neolithic agriculture through Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science
[10] Oliveira H.R., Campana M.G., Jones H., Hunt H.V., Leigh F., Redhouse D.I., Lister D.L. and Jones M.K. (2012). Tetraploid wheat landraces in the Mediterranean basin: Taxonomy, evolution and genetic diversity. PLoS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037063.
[11] Oliveira H.R., Civáň P., Morales J., Rodríguez-Rodríguez A., Lister D.L. and Jones M.K. (2012). Ancient DNA in archaeological wheat grains: Preservation conditions and the study of pre-Hispanic agriculture on the island of Gran Canaria (Spain). Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(4), 828-835. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2011.10.008.
[12] Jones M., Hunt H., Lightfoot E., Lister D., Liu X. and Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute G. (2011). Food globalization in prehistory. World Archaeology, 43(4), 665-675.
[13] Li C.X., Lister D.L., Li H.J., Xu Y., Cui Y.Q., Bower M.A., Jones M.K. and Zhou H. (2011). Ancient DNA analysis of desiccated wheat grains excavated from a Bronze Age cemetery in Xinjiang. Journal of Archaeological Science, 38(1), 115-119. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2010.08.016.
[14] Oliveira H.R., Jones H., Leigh F., Lister D.L., Peña-Chocarro L. and Jones M.K. (2011). Phylogeography of einkorn landraces in the Mediterranean basin and Central Europe: Population structure and cultivation history. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 3(4), 327-341.
[15] Oliveira H.R., Lister D.L. and Jones M.K. (2011). Phylogeography of cereal landraces and the spread of agriculture in Northwest Africa: Review and prospects, A. Fahmy and S. Kahlheber (eds.), Reports in African Archaeology, Vol.3Frankfurt am Main: Africa Magna Verlag.
[16] Lister D.L., Bower M.A. and Jones M.K. (2010). Herbarium specimens expand the geographical and temporal range of germplasm data in phylogeographic studies. Taxon, 59(5), 1321-1323.
[17] Lister D.L., Thaw S., Bower M.A., Jones H., Charles M.P., Jones G., Smith L.M.J., Howe C.J., Brown T.A. and Jones M.K. (2009). Latitudinal variation in a photoperiod response gene in European barley: Insight into the dynamics of agricultural spread from 'historic' specimens. Journal of Archaeological Science, 36(4), 1092-1098. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2008.12.012.
[18] Jones H., Lister D.L., Bower M.A., Leigh F.J., Smith L.M. and Jones M.K. (2008). Approaches and constraints of using existing landrace and extant plant material to understand agricultural spread in prehistory. Plant Genetic Resources: Characterisation and Utilisation, 6(2), 98-112. DOI: 10.1017/S1479262108993138.
[19] Lister D.L., Bower M.A., Howe C.J. and Jones M.K. (2008). Extraction and amplification of nuclear DNA from herbarium specimens of emmer wheat: A method for assessing DNA preservation by maximum amplicon length recovery. Taxon, 57(1), 254-258.
[20] Lister D.L., Bateman J.M., Purton S. and Howe C.J. (2003). DNA transfer from chloroplast to nucleus is much rarer in Chlamydomonas than in tobacco. Gene, 316, 33-38. DOI: 10.1016/S0378-1119(03)00754-6.
[21] Rathbone D.A., Lister D.L. and Bruce N.C. (2002). Biotransformation of alkaloids. G.A. Cordell (ed.), The Alkaloids. San Diego: Academic Press. 1-82.
[22] Lister D.L., Kanungo G., Rathbone D.A. and Bruce N.C. (1999). Transformations of codeine to important semisynthetic opiate derivatives by Pseudomonas putida m10. FEMS Microbiol. Lett., 181, 137-144.
[23] Lister D.L., Sproule R.F., Britt A.J., Lowe C.R. and Bruce N.C. (1996). Degradation of cocaine by a mixed culture of Pseudomonas fluorescens MBER and Comamonas acidovorans MBLF. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 62(1), 94-99.
[24] Udvardi M.K., Lister D.L. and Day D.A. (1992). Isolation and characterization of a ntrC mutant of Bradyrhizobium (Parasponia) sp. ANU289. J. Gen. Microbiol, 138, 1019-1025.
[25] Udvardi M.K., Lister D.L. and Day D.A. (1991). ATPase activity and anion transport across the peribacteroid membrane of isolated soybean symbiosomes. Arch. Microbiol., 156, 362-366.
[26] Udvardi M.K., Lister D.L. and Day D.A. (1990). Nitrogen regulation in Bradyrhizobium (Parasponia) sp. ANU289. P.M. Gresshoff, L. Roth and G. Stacey (eds.), Nitrogen Fixation: Achievements and Objectives. Proceedings of the 8th International Congress of Nitrogen Fixation, Knoxville, Tennessee, 20-26 May, 1990. Chapman & Hall.