Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Western NSW Branch Meeting: 2024-2

Professor Alan Cooper “Out of Africa Arabia: how ancient human history gave us modern lifestyle diseases”

Professor Alan Cooper

Professor of Evolution and Environmental Change
Charles Sturt University

Date: Wednesday, 10 April 2024, 4.00 — 5.00 pm (AEST)
Venue: Port Macquarie campus (Building 802, Room 2330/7, Major Innes Road), Charles Sturt University and live-streaming
Entry: No charge
All are welcome

This meeting is a joint presentation of Charles Sturt University and the Western NSW Branch of the Royal Society of NSW

Summary: As modern Humans moved Out of Africa and around the world just 55,000 years ago, they were forced to rapidly adapt to multiple new environments. As a result, humans are a great model animal system to study rapid genetic adaptation to climate change. DNA from ancient human skeletons (dating back as far as 46,000 years) shows how and when we moved Out of Africa and around the world, and how the critical step was a major phase of genetic selection for cold. Surprisingly, this appears to have occurred during a long unknown period when we were trapped in the Arabian Peninsula. During this ‘Arabian Standstill’ from around 80-55,000 years ago, major networks of genes involved in the regulation of fat, nerves, and skin all changed. Related genes were also incorporated from Neandertals, with whom we interbred just as we left Arabia. Surprisingly, many of these same genes are now associated with major modern diseases, from autism to obesity and cardiovascular disease, heralding a brand new field — evolutionary medicine.

Professor Alan Cooper is the Professor of Evolution and Environmental Change at Charles Sturt University, Albury. His multi-disciplinary research integrates genomics, climate and environmental change, bioinformatics and mathematics, archaeology, microbiology, palaeontology, and medical sciences and has resulted in over 35 papers in Nature and Science. He has been centrally involved in the field of ancient DNA since the earliest days, working with Svante Pääbo (Nobel Prize 2022) and Allan Wilson at UC Berkeley in 1989. He was the inaugural Professor of Ancient Biomolecules at the University of Oxford (2001), and an ARC Federation, Future, and Laureate Fellow at the University of Adelaide from 2005-2020, where he built the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. He has been the South Australian Scientist of the Year (2016/2017), won a Eureka Prize (2017), and led the multiple award-winning Aboriginal Heritage Project to reconstruct pre-European Aboriginal Australia history using ancient DNA. More information is available at

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