Dr Fiona Leigh

Dr Fiona Leigh
Senior Research Scientist
+44(0)1223 342485

Research Interests:

Molecular plant breeding and the study of genetic diversity and domestication of crop plants using molecular markers to identify and quantify genotype changes.

Currently, I am focusing on extending the bread wheat gene pool by understanding, exploiting and incorporating novel genetic diversity from wild and cultivated relatives of bread wheat; part of the BBSRC funded WISP programme. Extensive genetic diversity is available within a very accessible gene pool that includes diploid goat grass (Aegilops tauschii) and tetraploid wheats such as wild and cultivated emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccoides and T. dicoccum) and durum or pasta wheat (T. turgidum). To capture this diversity, tetraploid wheats are being crossed with UK bread wheat varieties.  We are creating UK-adapted ‘pre-breeding’ material which will be available for future work.

Some of my previous research has included the development of barley lines with novel starch phenotypes as part of the Smart Carbohydrate Centre, a BBSRC funded collaboration with the JIC. I have also been involved in studying the expansion of agriculture through Europe as part of a NERC funded consortium entitled ‘the domestication of Europe’. This was an assessment of the extent to which phylogeographical analysis of modern landraces of barley and emmer wheat, combined with genotypic analysis of preserved specimens could reveal genetic information pertaining to the spread and establishment of cereal agriculture through Europe. Other research has included assessing changes in genetic diversity of barley and potatoes in Europe over the past 50 years, developing markers for hybrid purity assessment and quantifying microsatellite mutation rates in a controlled sunflower population.


Hugo R Oliveira, Jenny Hagenblad, Matti W Leino, Fiona J Leigh, Diane L Lister, Leonor Peña-Chocarro and Martin K Jones. Research article.  2014.  Wheat in the Mediterranean revisited: tetraploid wheat landraces assessed with elite bread wheat single-nucleotide polymorphism markers  BMC Genetics 15:54

Phil Howell, Fiona Leigh, Ruth Bates, Nick Gosman, Kay Trafford, Wayne Powell, Alison M Smith and Andy Greenland (2013) Rapid marker-assisted development of advanced recombinant lines from barley starch mutants. Molecular Breeding DOI 10.1007/s11032-013-9930-0

Fiona J. Leigh, Ian Mackay, Hugo R. Oliveira, Nicholas E. Gosman, Richard A. Horsnell, Huw Jones, Jon White, Wayne Powell, Terence A. Brown (2013) Using diversity of the chloroplast genome to examine evolutionary history of wheat species. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution.  DOI10.1007/s10722-013-9957-4

Fiona J. Leigh, Hugo R. Oliveira, Ian Mackay, Huw Jones, Lydia Smith, Petra Wolters, Mike Charles, Martin Jones, Wayne Powell, Terence A. Brown, Glynis Jones (2013) Remnant genetic diversity detected in an ancient crop: Triticum dicoccon Schrank landraces from Asturias, Spain.  Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, Vol 60, Issue 1, pp 355-365.

Glynis Jones, Huw Jones, Michael P. Charles, Martin K. Jones, Sue Colledge, Fiona J. Leigh, Diane A. Lister, Lydia M.J. Smith, Wayne Powell, Terrence A. Brown (2012). Phylogeographic analysis of barley DNA as evidence for the spread of Neolithic agriculture through Europe.  Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol 39, I 10, p 3230–3238.

Hugo R. Oliveira, Michael G. Campana, Huw Jones, Harriet V. Hunt, Fiona Leigh, David I. Redhouse, Diane L. Lister, Martin K. Jones (2012) Tetraploid Wheat Landraces in the Mediterranean Basin: Taxonomy, Evolution and Genetic Diversity.  PlOS ONE v7, no5, e37063.

Thomas P. Howard, Brendan Fahy, Alice Craggs, Rachel Mumford, Fiona Leigh, Phil Howell, Andy Greenland, Alison M. Smith.  (2012). Barley mutants with low rates of endosperm starch synthesis have low grain dormancy and high susceptibility to preharvest sprouting.  New Phytologist, Vol 194,  pp158-167. 

Huw Jones, Peter Civáň, James Cockram, Fiona J Leigh, Lydia MJ Smith, Martin K Jones, Michael P Charles, José-Luis Molina-Cano, Wayne Powell, Glynis Jones and Terence A Brown (2011) Evolutionary history of barley cultivation in Europe revealed by genetic analysis of extant landraces.  BMC Evolutionary Biology, 11:320 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-320

Hugo R. Oliveira, Huw Jones, Fiona Leigh, Diane L. Lister, Martin K. Jones, Leonor Peña-Chocarro (2011).  Phylogeography of einkorn landraces in the Mediterranean basin and Central Europe: population structure and cultivation history Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, Vol 3, Issue 4, pp 327-341

Howard T. et al (2011) Identification of a major QTL controlling the content of B-type starch granules in Aegliops. Journal of Experimental Botany doi:10.1093/jxb/erq423

Bentley A. R. et al (2010) frequency ofo photoperiod-insensitive PpdA1a alleles in tetraploid, hexaploid and synthetic hexaploid wheat germplasm. Plant Breeding doi:10.1111/j.1439-0523.2010.01802.x

Jones H, Leigh FJ, Mackay I, Bower MA, Smith LMJ, Charles MP, Jones G, Jones MK, Brown TA, Powell W (2008) Population Based Re-sequencing Reveals that the Flowering Time Adaptation of Cultivated Barley Originated East of the Fertile Crescent Molecular Biology and Evolution; doi: 10.1093/molbev/msn167

Jones H, Lister DL, Bower MA, Leigh FJ, Smith LMJ, Jones MK, (2008) Approaches and constraints of using existing landrace and extant plant material to understand agricultural spread in prehistory. Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization and Utilization 6, 98-112

J. Cockram, F.J. Leigh, V. Lea, I. Mackay, J. White. D.A. Laurie, W. Powell, D.M. O’Sullivan. (2008) Association mapping around partitioning loci in barley. BMC Genetics, 9:16.

J. Cockram, H. Jones, F. Leigh, D.M. O’Sullivan, W. Powell, D. Laurie, A. Greenland. (2007) Control of Flowering Time in Temperate Cereals: Genes, Domestication and Sustainable Productivity. Journal of Experimental Botany, 58:1231-1244.

S. J. Rae, M. Macaulay, L. Ramsay, F. Leigh, D. Matthews, D. M. O’Sullivan, P. Donini, P. C. Morris, W. Powell, D. F. Marshall, R. Waugh and W. T. B. Thomas (2007) Molecular barley breeding. Euphytica, 158: 295-303.

Rodruguez, M., O'Sullivan D., Donini P., Papa, R. Chiapparino E., Leigh F and Attene G. (2006). Integration of Retrotransposon-based markers in a linkage map of barley. Molecular Breeding Molecular Breeding 17: 173-184

Leigh F.J., Law J.R., Lea V.J. Donini P and Reeves J.C. (2005). A comparison of molecular markers and statistical tools for diversity and EDV studies. In 'In the wake of the double helix: from the green revolution to the gene revolution' Eds. Tuberosa R, Phillips R.L. and Gale, M.

Taylor E. J. A., Konstantinova P., Leigh F., Bates J. A. and Lee D. (2004) Gypsy-like retrotransposons in Pyrenophera species: an abundant and informative class of molecular markers. Genome 47: 519-525

Leigh F., Lea V., Law J., Wolters P., Powell W. and Donini P. (2003b) Assessment of EST- and genomic microsatellite markers for variety discrimination and genetic diversity studies in wheat. Euphytica 133: 359-366

Leigh F., Kalendar R., Lea V., Lee D., Donini P. and Schulman A. H. (2003a) Comparison of the utility of barley retrotransposon families for genetic analysis by molecular marker techniques. Molecular Genetics and Genomics 269: 464-474