Grim warning on climate change from ancient DNA

Professor Alan Cooper. Photo by Randy Larcombe

Professor Alan Cooper. Photo by Randy Larcombe
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Monday, 7 April 2008

The study of preserved ancient genetic material provides a "grim warning" about the potential impacts of climate change on our animal populations, according to Professor Alan Cooper, one of the world's leaders in ancient DNA research.

Professor Cooper will be speaking at the University of Adelaide's Research Tuesday Public Seminar Series tomorrow, Tuesday 8 April at 5.30pm. He is an ARC Federation Fellow at the University of Adelaide within the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Director of the University's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD).

"Ancient DNA has revealed that in contrast to much current thinking, the large scale extinctions of megafauna from the Northern Hemisphere (such as mammoth and bison) around 11,000 years ago were largely due to climate change, with direct human impact through hunting and overkill providing only the coup de grĂ¢ce," Professor Cooper says.

"By extrapolation we can predict that the current climate change trend will have a devastating impact on many animal populations."

Professor Cooper's research involves retrieving preserved genetic material from a variety of sources, from bones and teeth through to preserved seeds and sediments, to examine evolution and environmental change.

At the Research Tuesday seminar, Professor Cooper will talk about the wide range of projects underway at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA ranging from studies of mammoths, sabre-tooth cats, Hobbits and the Iceman, through to the migrations of the first human groups around the world and the domestication of pigs, chickens and horses.

He will also talk about new genomic approaches that are radically changing the way we analyse past and present environments, and the need for a new generation of computer-based biologists to explore this new frontier.

Professor Cooper completed his PhD at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand before moving to the University of Oxford where he established and led the Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre. In 2004 he was awarded a prestigious five-year Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship to establish an ancient DNA research centre at the University of Adelaide, now one of the top three such centres in the world.

Held on the second Tuesday of every month, Research Tuesday gives leading experts from the University of Adelaide an opportunity to engage with business, community leaders and the general public on issues that impact on them.

WHAT: "Using ancient DNA to study climate change, mass extinctions and human evolution"
WHERE: Bonython Hall, North Terrace Campus, University of Adelaide
WHEN: 5.30pm Tuesday 8 April
COST: Free. Please book by email: or phone: (08) 8303 3692


Contact Details

Professor Alan Cooper
Australian Centre for Ancient DNA
University of Adelaide

Ms Robyn Mills
Media and Communications Officer
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 6341
Mobile: +61 410 689 084