Uni expert uses DNA to time travel
Thursday, 23 August 2007
How does genetic information from more than 100,000 years ago help to explain climate changes through time and their effect on plant and human populations?
That's the question ancient DNA expert and Federation Fellow Professor Alan Cooper will attempt to answer at a special "Research Tuesday on a Sunday" presentation at the University of Adelaide's Open Day this weekend.
Professor Cooper heads the University's world-leading Australian Centre for Ancient DNA research unit, which is training a new generation of scientists to extract ancient genetic material from mummies, skeletons, plants and soils.
His presentation in the Napier Building this Sunday, August 26 at 1pm is titled "Watching Evolution in Action: Using ancient DNA to study climate change, meteorites and mass extinctions".
"Ancient DNA provides us with a unique means of observing evolution in real time," Professor Cooper says. "By tracking genetic changes in ancient populations from around the world, we can examine the effects of major climatic changes on animal and plant populations and compare these to human impacts."
"At the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA we retrieve tiny traces of preserved genetic material from bones, teeth, dung, wood and even just sediment itself to study issues in areas ranging from evolution to climate change, conservation biology, biosecurity, forensics and anthropology.
"For example, we have been examining samples from the hobbit (Homo floresiensis) cave in Flores, to investigate whether they really were a dwarf population of Homo erectus that survived until just 11,000 years ago."
Professor Alan Cooper is a Federation Fellow within the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide. He was recruited from the University of Oxford in 2005 to head up the Centre, which is helping to answer some of the most important questions about environmental and evolutionary change in the southern hemisphere.
Originally from New Zealand, Professor Cooper's research career has led him from the University of California to Oxford and now Adelaide. His fieldwork involves digging up extinct species from caves or permafrost deposits, or in the back rooms of museums, and has taken him to Hawaii, Madagascar, Patagonia, Siberia and the Yukon Territory in Alaska.
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