Prof. Alan Cooper has been an Australian Research Council Federation, Future, and Laureate Fellow (2005-2010, 2011-2014, 2015-2019), during which time he has specialized in the genetic analysis of evolution, biodiversity, climate change, paleoecology and microbiomes. He built his first research group as a postdoc at the University of Oxford where he also established his first large research facility, the Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre, through a $3M grant from the UK Joint Infrastructure Fund (UK Government/Wellcome Trust). He directed the HWABC as the Professor of Ancient Biomolecules from 2001-2005 during which time it published a series of ground-breaking studies in ancient population genetics and evolutionary research. He was awarded a prestigious ARC Federation Fellowship in 2004, and moved to the University of Adelaide to establish the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), the first largescale ancient DNA research centre in the Southern Hemisphere. This international standard research facility was formally opened by the Premier, Mike Rann in August 2006, and provides the specialist equipment and ultra-sterile working environment required for the study of minute traces of preserved genetic material from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years.
ACAD provides a specialist centre for evolutionary research in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere, particularly the impacts and timing of environmental change (eg climate, ecology) on humans, other animals, plants and microbes. ACAD specialises in recovering and analyzing genetic records preserved in ancient bones, teeth, leaves and seeds, coprolites, bacteria, and other remains from caves, museums and environment samples such as sediment and ice cores. Prof. Cooper’s work focuses on the use of ancient DNA to record and study evolutionary processes in real time, especially those associated with environmental change. His work ranges over timescales of hundreds of years old (eg museum specimens) to material well beyond the ca. 60 kyr range of carbon-dating, such as permafrost-preserved bones of mammals and sediment dating to >300 kyr. His research is characterised by multi-disciplinary approaches involving the combination of information from areas such as geology, archaeology, anthropology, and mathematics, bioinformatics and phylogenetics to provide novel views of evolution, population genetics and palaeoecology. Recent research highlights include the use of Ice Age mammal populations to record the effects of environmental change, the first analysis of ancient human microbiomes, and using ancient genomes to study human evolutionary history around the world.
Prof. Cooper’s current research features studies of ancient human genomes, Australian megafaunal species, permafrost preserved material from the Arctic and Antarctic, and DNA from environmental deposits (sediments, stalactites, marine, terrestrial and freshwater samples). His group is also heavily involved in developing bioinformatics and computational genomics, as well as new molecular biology techniques to improve the ability to recover DNA from the past (eg nuclear genomes and metagenomic approaches). A further major research theme concerns the use of molecular clocks to estimate the timing of past evolutionary events from genetic data.
Current fieldwork areas include Australia, Beringia and North America, South America, Europe, New Zealand, and Antarctica and involve cave deposits, permafrost sites, many dark and dingy backrooms of museums around the world, and active archaeological sites.