Environment Institute


DNAfarmersInternational research involving the University of Adelaide shows that the introduction of agriculture in Europe about 8500 years ago not only changed the way people lived but also left traces in their DNA.

Published in Nature, the researchers show the direct results of adaptation to changing diets, environments, disease-causing organisms, social organisation on the DNA of ancient European farmers. They document the results of selection on specific locations on DNA related to milk digestion, pigmentation and disease immunity.

Indirect evidence of this adaption can be detected in the patterns of genetic variation in today’s populations, the researchers say, but modern genomes are “just echoes” of the past and cannot directly be connected to specific events. However now, they report, the study of ancient human DNA makes it possible to watch how natural selection happened in real-time.

“We’ve been able to take advantage of improved DNA extraction techniques and the largest collection of genome-wide datasets from ancient human remains. This has allowed us to identify specific genes that changed during and after transition from hunting and gathering to farming in Europe,” says co-author Professor Alan Cooper, Director of the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.

The DNA came from the remains of 230 ancient individuals who lived between 3000 and 8500 years ago at different sites across what is now Europe, Siberia and Turkey.

Although the authors caution that sample size still remains a limitation, comparing the ancient genomes to one another and to those of present-day Europeans revealed 12 positions on the genome where natural selection related to the introduction of farming in northern latitudes appears to have happened.

Many of these changes (variants) occurred on genes that have been associated with fatty acid metabolism, vitamin D levels, light skin pigmentation and light eye colour, which are important given the decreasing exposure to sunlight in northern latitudes. Two variants appear on genes that have been linked to higher risk of celiac disease, but that may have been important in adapting to an early agricultural diet.

Other variants were located on immune-associated genes. “The Neolithic period involved an increase in population density, with people living close to one another and to domesticated animals,” says Dr Wolfgang Haak, one of three senior authors of the study, who did the research at the University of Adelaide and is now at Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. “Although that did not come fully as a surprise, it’s great to see it confirmed in ‘real-time’.”

“Some of these traits have been studied before,” says Harvard Medical School’s Professor David Reich, one of the senior authors. “This work with ancient DNA enriches our understanding of those traits and when they appeared.”

Being able to look at numerous positions across the genome also allowed the team to examine complex traits for the first time in ancient DNA, showing the evolution of height across time.

(Image source: news.nationalgeographic.com)

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In the World Economic Forum’s recently released 2015 global risk assessment, the threat identified as having the greatest potential impact was “water crises”.

As our population grows and climate changes, the effective management of water resources will become increasingly critical; not just for the survival of communities and industries, but entire regions.

So how should we prepare for this volatile future? In this special Research Tuesdays forum, our expert panellists explored the issues in detail, analysing:

– the key big-picture factors of climate change and infrastructure
– the economics of water, especially in the often neglected area of demand
– South Australia’s specific challenges regarding water regulation, policy and planning
– current best-practice water management around the world.

The presentations can be viewed below:

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Marine ecologist Associate Professor Ivan Nagelkerken from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute recently spoke with Steve Herman in a radio interview on VOA-Asia News about his research into the impacts of rising carbon dioxide levels and warming temperatures on our oceans’ food chain.

Listen to the full interview.

Image source: tes.com





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The hunting ability and growth of sharks will be dramatically impacted by increased CO2 levels and warmer oceans expected by the end of the century, a University of Adelaide study has found. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, marine ecologists from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute report long-term experiments that show warmer waters and […]

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Meet research scientist Dr Sarah Catalano, featured in the University of Adelaide’s new research blog. Sarah’s research relates to marine parasitology and molecular evolution. Her PhD undertaken at the University of Adelaide has added an abundance of knowledge about the little known dicyemid faunal composition and ecology. She has formally described 10 new dicyemid species from […]

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Dr Damien Fordham, an ARC Future Fellow working in the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute was recently featured in the University’s new research blog. The causes and consequences of extinction, and developing predictive tools to be able to implement effective conservation strategies are major themes of Damien’s research. The conservation computer modelling tools that he […]

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Reconstructing Australia’s pre-European genetic history, investigating possible cell wall weaknesses in the fungus that causes head blight disease in cereals, developing wearable antennas to monitor the aged, and investigating heat as a risk factor in work-related illness, are amongst the research projects funded under today’s announcement of $16.9 million for new research at the University […]

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The Science Says! tour kicks off this week in Adelaide on Thursday 5 November, 2015. It is an event of science and comedy in the style of the great panel shows (think Good News Week and Spicks and Specks). It’s science as you’ve never seen it before, with this year’s panelists including world leading researchers, gifted comedians, and professional science communicators […]

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University of Adelaide PhD candidate Grace Hodder recently spoke with Sarah Martin from Radio Adelaide about her research project on the ecology of the diamond firetail, a threatened bird species of the Mt Lofty Ranges. Grace’s research under the supervision of Associate Professor David Paton is focused on determining whether their declining numbers is due […]

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Scientists from the University of Adelaide and CSIRO have been involved in a study examining the regional engagement and spatial modelling for natural resource management in South Australia. Professor Wayne Meyer from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute was one of seven researchers involved in an article published in Sustainability Science. The study involved reviewing […]

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