Date Published: 9 February 2009

Ancient DNA providing answers for tomorrow

Health News from Australia.

Did the Tasmanian Tiger really become extinct in 1936? Who is HMAS Sydney's unknown sailor? Was the Dodo just a big pigeon?

These are some of the intriguing questions the University of Adelaide's Dr Jeremy Austin will cover when he discusses ancient DNA research at the University's first 2009 Research Tuesday free public seminar on Tuesday 10 February.

Dr Austin is the Deputy Director of the University's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. He says ancient DNA is helping researchers investigate animals, plants and environments from the past to help provide critical knowledge for the future.

"Ancient DNA allows us to travel back in time - days, years or hundreds of thousands of years - to study extinct species, to recreate past environments and to identify the remains of and relationships between peoples or animal populations who have been long-dead," says Dr Austin.

"A key aspect of ancient DNA research is to understand how animal and plant populations have responded to past climate change - critical knowledge if we are to predict the effects of future change."

Projects to be highlighted at the Research Tuesday include: DNA testing of historical and modern animal droppings to see if there is any evidence of thylacines (Tasmanian Tigers) beyond 1936; testing of DNA of the HMAS Sydney's unidentified sailor and comparison with living relatives; using ancient DNA techniques to provide genetic data to help save the Tasmanian Devil, threatened with extinction because of facial tumour disease.

The Australian Centre for Ancient DNA is one of the world's leading ancient DNA laboratories and conducts research on a broad range of topics including forensics, conservation of endangered species, environmental change and climate change and extinction.

Its work is often high-profile, attracting interest from around the globe. Dr Austin's work on the Tasmanian Tiger is being filmed for a future episode of the US-based History Channel documentary program MonsterQuest.



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