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Australian Centre for Ancient DNA
School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
Darling Building
SA 5005

Telephone: +61 8 8313 3952
Facsimile: +61 8 8313 4364

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Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD)

Panaramic view of the Botanic Gardens

Ancient DNA Laboratory situated in the State Herbarium, Botanic Gardens, South Australia

About the Centre

ACAD provides international standard facilities for ancient DNA research in Australia, and across the Southern Hemisphere. Research areas include responses to environmental change, evolutionary biology, and population genetic studies of animals, plants, pathogens, and human evolution.

The purpose-built laboratories are located in the state herbarium and Botanic Gardens, where they are isolated from other areas of molecular biology research and are protected from environmental contamination by positive air-pressure and UV light sterilisation. The facilities include freezer rooms, sample decontamination and preparation areas (eg dental drill stations), and specialist still-air working areas for ancient human DNA, vertebrates and sedimentary and microbial DNA studies.

Research is currently being conducted on bones, plants, soils and other biological specimens (especially from the Holarctic), Pleistocene megafauna and extinct species (North/South America, Australia, and worldwide) and evolutionary processes on a variety of time scales (population genetics, phylogeography, systematics, and computational-based phyloinformatics and molecular clocks).
Current methods rely on newly developed methods to extract, amplify and characterize DNA, including new PCR and genomic library approaches developed at ACAD. Analyses involve a variety of bioinformatic and computational phylogenetic and population genetic approaches, including collaborations with leading Australian and international experts.

Core areas of research

Environmental Change

ACAD is involved in a variety of genetic studies of long-term records of environmental change and human impact on biodiversity, ecosystems, and landscape stability. Source materials include sedimentary deposits (lake, river, marine), biominerals (bones, teeth, stalactites), ice cores, and animal and plant products (hair, dung, eggs, seeds, roots, leaves). Important research issues include the timing and nature of changes in patterns of biodiversity, salinity, and vegetation over the recent and distant past. This data is critical for relating information about past climates, and periods of climate change, directly to the biological impacts on populations of animals and plants in different parts of the world.

Evolutionary Biology

The phylogenetic relationships and phylogeography of extinct mammal and bird taxa are a major research program. Species of interest include the Australian megafauna, NZ birds, Ice Age bison, horses, sabre-tooth cats, and a variety of ancient human remains (as part of the National Geographic Society GENOGRAPHIC PROJECT). Population genetics studies of temporally distributed data are a particularly powerful form of analysis as they can identify and quantify the evolutionary impacts of major environmental change.

Recent ancient DNA projects involved fieldwork in Alaska, Siberia, Yukon, Patagonia, South Africa, North America, China, Indonesia, Tasmania, and New Zealand

Species under study in these projects include moa, Beringian brown bears and bison, sabre-tooth cats, cave lions, horses, pigs, penguins, Neandertals, and Flores hominids.


Our vision...

To be a world leader in the research and development of advanced ancient DNA approaches for evolutionary, environmental and conservation applications.

Our mission...
  • Reconstruct past ecosystems and evolutionary lineages using trace amounts of environmental and sub fossil DNA to allow prediction of future impacts and the consequences of climate change.
  • Use genomic information to reconstruct the evolution of humans, domesticates, plants and animals.
  • Identify environmental genomic signals through comparison to reference collections in museums and herbaria.
  • Expand the repertoire of forensic techniques through innovative moleuclar approaches to analyse new materials.
  • Solve long-standing mysteries by retrieving genetic information from the past.
Inside our lab

View Media
· University of Adelaide's purpose built ancient DNA Lab - see inside
quicktime | mp4 (mp4 10MB)
· View the sampling process
quicktime | mp4 (mp4 3.6MB)

Study Areas:
  • DNA isolation and characterisation methods
  • Ultra-sensitive PCR, cloning and sequencing
  • Ancient DNA damage/base modification
  • Genomic library creation and palaeoproteomics
  • Phylogenetics and population genetics
  • Bioinformatics/Computer modeling
  • Rates of molecular evolution.
  • Archaeology
  • Bioinformatics
  • Biology/Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Sciences
  • Forensics
  • Geography
  • Molecular Biology
  • Palaeontology
  • Soil chemistry