New Laureate Fellow to map genetic human history

Friday, 22 August 2014

Using ancient bacteria and DNA to generate unique insights into the current distribution of modern humans, including indigenous Australians, will be the aim of University of Adelaide's newest Australian Laureate Fellow, announced today by Education Minister, the Hon. Christopher Pyne.

Professor Alan Cooper is Director of the University's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) which seeks to understand evolution and environmental change through time using preserved genetic records recovered from ancient materials including human and animal bones and teeth, plant remains and sediments.

This new project will use ancient traces of the bacteria carried by early man and human genetics to reconstruct a global human history. This will include the genetic history of indigenous Australia and the impacts of colonisation on indigenous people around the world.

Professor Cooper is one of 16 new Australian Laureate Fellows. His Laureate Fellowship is worth $2,775,898 over five years. The Australian Research Council (ARC) scheme aims to attract and retain world-class researchers and research leaders to key positions in Australia.

University of Adelaide Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Mike Brooks says the Australian Laureate Fellowships are highly competitive and only awarded to researchers of outstanding calibre and international renown.

"This prestigious award cements the international reputations held by Professor Cooper and the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA," Professor Brooks says. "It strengthens his position as a world leader in ancient DNA research and will help answer fundamental questions about human evolution and early man's changing environment and, perhaps most importantly, impacts on our health today."

Professor Cooper has been an ARC Federation Fellow and Future Fellow. He built his first research group at the University of Oxford where he established the Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre, publishing a series of ground-breaking studies in ancient population genetics and evolutionary research.

He moved to the University of Adelaide in 2005 to establish ACAD, the first large-scale ancient DNA research centre in the Southern Hemisphere.

"I'm delighted to be awarded this Fellowship which will allow ACAD to pursue this nationally and globally significant project," Professor Cooper says.

"This project will have major cultural and social impacts in Australia and beyond, including the creation of a program to directly engage Aboriginal communities in scientific research to record their genetic history and place in Australia.

"Internationally, we aim to discover the genetic processes and effects of major events such as the introduction of farming or European colonisation. Uniquely it will reveal the impacts on human microbiomes (the bacteria we carry) and potential health consequences."


Contact Details

Professor Alan Cooper
Director, Australian Centre for Ancient DNA
The University of Adelaide

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