ACEBB/EELS/EI Seminar Series podcasts available

The Environment Institute, the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity and the Ecology, Evolution and Landscape Science academic group in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences hold a regular seminar series during semester.

The series includes seminars with invited high-profile speakers from across the Institute’s subject areas, including marine and climate science, energy, evolutionary biology, ecology and biodiversity, and ancient DNA.

In the series so far:

3 May: A New World Down Under: biodiversity and evolution of subterranean animals from the Australian arid zone (m4a download)
Speaker: Professor Steven Cooper

30 May: Next generation amplicon sequencing to characterise fossil, faecal, food and forensic samples (m4a download)
Speaker: Dr Mike Bunce

14 June: Origins of the southwest Australian biodiversity hotspot: ecological and macroevolutionary perspectives  (m4a download)
Speaker: Dr Marcel Cardillo

Seminars are held regularly and presentations will be added to the ACEBB/EELS/EI Seminar Series webpage.

DNA Sequencing: Dr Mike Bunce podcast now available

The podcast for the presentation by Dr Mike Bunce is now available for download.mikebunce

The Environment Institute, the Ecology, Evolution and Landscape Science group and the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity presented Dr Mike Bunce, ARC future Fellow from the School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology at Murdoch University, on Thursday 30 May 2013.

The presentation Next generation amplicon sequencing to characterise fossil, faecal, food and forensic samples discussed next-generation DNA sequencing.

Mike’s research interests revolve around using ancient DNA to study evolutionary processes and using ancient DNA profiles to investigate past biodiversity. He has worked on a diverse variety of projects with the common theme of extracting and amplifying degraded DNA; these include studies of New Zealand’s extinct birds and obtaining DNA profiles from ice/sediment cores. The lab research is focused around using ancient DNA as a tool to profile past biodiversity and extinction events. Mike says ‘Conservation and restoration of biodiversity is best achieved if we understand the past composition and function of the ecosystems we are trying to restore’.

Listen to the presentation

EI scientists use preserved bacteria on ancient teeth to track the evolution of diseases

Researchers from the Environment Institute’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) have led an International research team that have used DNA preserved in calcified bacteria on the teeth of ancient human skeletons to shed light on the health consequences of the evolving diet and behaviour from the Stone Age to the modern day.

The ancient genetic record reveals the negative changes in oral bacteria brought about by the dietary shifts as humans became farmers, and later with the introduction of food manufacturing in the Industrial Revolution.

Late Iron Age/Roman woman showing large dental calculus deposit, from Cambridge area, UK. Photo: Alan Cooper

Late Iron Age/Roman woman showing large dental calculus deposit, from Cambridge area, UK. Photo: Alan Cooper

The international team, led by ACAD, where the research was performed, has published the results in Nature Genetics today. Other team members include the Department of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge (UK).

“This is the first record of how our evolution over the last 7500 years has impacted the bacteria we carry with us, and the important health consequences,” says study leader Professor Alan Cooper, ACAD Director.

“Oral bacteria in modern man are markedly less diverse than historic populations and this is thought to contribute to chronic oral and other disease in post-industrial lifestyles.”

The researchers extracted DNA from tartar (calcified dental plaque) from 34 prehistoric northern European human skeletons, and traced changes in the nature of oral bacteria from the last hunter-gatherers, through the first farmers to the Bronze Age and Medieval times.

Read the full media release.

Ancient genes may explain modern threat to Tasmanian devils

Researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of Adelaide have discovered that Tasmanian devils had low immune gene diversity for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years before the emergence of Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

The study, published today in the journal Biology letters, involves Environment Institute member Jeremy Austin from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. The study was led by Associate Professor Kathy Belov from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science and also involved senior author Katrina Morris, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.

“It is well known that low genetic diversity is a major extinction risk factor, but when and how devils lost their immune diversity has remained a mystery until now,” said senior author Katrina Morris, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.

Dr Jeremy Austin from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA

Dr Jeremy Austin from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA

“Devils once lived across much of mainland Australia, but became extinct sometime in the last few thousand years,” said Dr Jeremy Austin, from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.

“We looked at subfossil bones of these extinct mainland devils, as well as museum specimens of Tasmanian devils collected over the last 200 years. They capture the genetic diversity of the past allowing us to see how the immune gene diversity has changed over thousands of years.”

The research was supported by funding from the Australian Research Council, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Foundation and Zoos SA.

Read the full Media Release on the University of Sydney’s website to find out more.

New paper: A quantitative assessment of a reliable screening technique for the STR analysis of telogen hair roots

A new paper involving Environment Institute members Janette Edson, Alan Cooper and Jeremy Austin, as well as Elizabeth Brooks (Forensic and Data Centres, The Australian Federal Police), Carolyn McLaren (University of Canberra), James Robertson (University of Canberra), Dennis McNevin (University of Canberra) has recently been published in the Journal Forensic Science International:Genetics.

The paper titled, ‘A quantitative assessment of a reliable screening technique for the STR analysis of telogen hair roots’ looks at human telogen hairs, which are commonly recovered as trace evidence but currently have limited use for forensic DNA analysis. The paper presents methods that can be incorporated into routine trace and DNA analysis, providing an efficient and cost effective method to screen telogen hairs and predict STR (short tandem repeats) profiling success prior to destructive DNA analysis. The results of this study indicate telogen hairs may provide a reliable source of nuclear DNA for use in routine casework.

Read the paper to find out more.

Issue 3 of e-Science out now!

Issue 3 of the Faculty of Sciences e-Science Magazine is out now!

Issue 3 of e-Science

The new and exciting Issue 3 of e-Science features:

  • The fight against a global health threat
  • Discovery of the Higgs boson
  • What DNA can tell us about the past
  • How our love of chocolate can help developing communities

New in this issue is ‘e-Science and You’ giving readers a forum to ask questions and tell the Faculty about how they are using e-Science.

Download it now!

Flightless parrots, burrowing bats helped parasitic Hades flower

Ancient dung from a cave in the South Island of New Zealand has revealed a previously unsuspected relationship between two of the country’s most unusual threatened species.

A New Zealand short-tailed bat pictured while eating dactylanthus.
Photo by Nga Manu Nature Reserve.

Fossilised dung (coprolites) of a now rare parrot, the nocturnal flightless kakapo, contained large amounts of pollen of a rare parasitic plant, dactylanthus (commonly known as “wood rose” or “Hades flower”), which lives underground and has no roots or leaves itself.

Researchers from the Environment Institute’s  Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD)  and Landcare Research and the Department of Conservation in New Zealand report the discovery in a new paper published in the journal Conservation Biology.

The paper is titled ‘A Lost Link between a Flightless Parrot and a Parasitic Plant and the Potential Role of Coprolites in Conservation Paleobiology‘ and was written by Jamie Wood (Landcare Research), Janet Wilmshurst (Landacare Research), Trevor Worthy (University of NSW), Avi Holzapfel (Department of Conservation, NZ) and Environment Institute member Alan Cooper (Director, ACAD).

Read the Media Release

Download the paper

New Paper: Historical stocking data and 19th century DNA reveal human-induced changes to native diversity and distribution of cutthroat trout

A new paper involving Environment Institute members Jessica Metcalf (now University of Colorado), Alan Cooper and Jeremy Austin, as well as Sierra Stowell (University of Colorado), Chris Kennedy (Colorado Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office), Kevin Rogers (Colorado Parks and Wildlife), Daniel McDonald (University of Colorado), Janet Epp (Pisces Molecular, LLC), Kyle Keepers (University of Colorado) and Andrew Martin (University of Colorado) has recently been published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

The paper, titled ‘Historical stocking data and 19th century DNA reveal human-induced changes to native diversity and distribution of cutthroat trout’. helps to clarify the native diversity and distribution of cutthroat trout in Colorado. The study is led by University of Colorado Boulder postdoctoral researcher Jessica Metcalf, a former postdoctoral researcher at the Environment Institute’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.

Download the Paper to find out more.

Read the Media Release produced by the University of Colorado.

Unsung Hero of South Australian Science Award 2012 – Dr Jeremy Austin

Dr Jeremy Austin

The Environment Institute would like to congratulate Dr Jeremy Austin on being presented with the ‘Unsung Hero of South Australian Science Award‘ for 2012 as part of National Science Week.

Dr Austin was presented with the award for his work with DNA and forensic indentification at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA in South Australia (ACAD).

“Jeremy has made the quantum leap from using techniques for scientific research to using them for direct human benefit. He has pioneered the transfer of new methods and technology into practical applications suitable for industry, particularly the forensics community. Having this calibre of scientist in our state is of enormous importance to South Australia.” (National Science Week)

Congralutations to Dr Jeremy Austin

Find out more about the award
Discover more about Dr Austin’s work at ACAD

New Paper: Man and megafauna in Tasmania: closing the gap

A new paper involving Environment Institute members Alan Cooper and Nicolas Rawlence, from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, as well as Richard Gillespie (University of Wollongong/Australian National University), Aaron Camens (The University of Adelaide), Trevor Worthy (University of New South Wales), Craig Reid (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery), Fiona Bertuch and Vladimir Levchenko (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) has recently been published in the Journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

Alan Cooper, Director of ACAD and one of the contributing academics

The paper is titled ‘Man and megafauna in Tasmania: closing the gap’ and reports on a series of new radiocarbon ages  and C:N ratios on collagen and dentine fractions from skeletal remains in the Mount Cripps karst area and the Mowbray Swamp and discusses the reliability of ages from these and other sites. The study also reports the discovery of an articulated Simosthenurus occidentalis skeleton at Mt Cripps, that represents only the second directly-dated extinct megafaunal taxon with a reliable age <50 ka cal BP from Tasmania.

Read and dowload the paper to find out more and read about the findings.