Ancient DNA unlocks secrets of the past
A new, world-leading research unit, which traces genetic information from more than 100,000 years ago, has been opened at the University of Adelaide by the Premier, the Hon. Mike Rann.
The Australian Centre for Ancient DNA will train a new generation of Australian scientists, using revolutionary techniques to extract ancient genetic material from bones, plants and soils.
The Centre will help answer some of the most important questions about environmental and evolutionary change in the southern hemisphere.
Professor Alan Cooper, who was recruited from the University of Oxford in 2005 to head up the Centre at the University of Adelaide, said the facility would put Australia on the international map for ancient DNA research.
"We will use ancient DNA to examine the environmental impacts of climate change and human migrations over the past 50,000 years," Professor Cooper said.
The Centre has just secured an international coup, signing a contract with the National Geographic Society to provide ancient DNA information for 'The Genographic Project'. The project is a major international five-year study to measure male and female genetic markers from human populations around the world to reveal our collective history of evolution, migration and dispersal.
"This exciting project places the Centre at the forefront of international ancient DNA research and the results will revolutionise our understanding of human evolution and diversity," Professor Cooper said. "Ancient DNA allows us to determine exactly when and where ancient populations were at a given time."
Researchers at the Centre have also been working with Indonesian and Australian archaeologists to search for traces of DNA in the teeth of the recently discovered and controversial Flores hominids, or "hobbits," who lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until around 12,000 years ago. "DNA will definitively show whether these specimens were simply unusual modern humans, or a completely separate species," Professor Cooper said.
The Centre is expected to attract scientists to Adelaide to use the world's most up-to-date DNA testing equipment. For more details of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA , visit the website: www.ees.adelaide.edu.au/research/acad/
Story by Candy Gibson