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 (e.g. dental drill stations), and specialist still-air working areas for ancient human, animal, plant, 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 protocols to extract, amplify and characterise 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
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.
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.