Alan J. Cooper

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Alan Cooper
Alan J. Cooper

1966 (age 52–53)
Alma materVictoria University of Wellington (PhD)
Scientific career
InstitutionsVictoria University Wellington
Smithsonian Institution
University of Oxford
University of Adelaide
ThesisMolecular evolutionary studies of New Zealand birds (1994)
Doctoral advisorAllan C. Wilson
Svante Pääbo
Doctoral studentsBeth Shapiro[2]
Tom Gilbert[3]

Alan J. Cooper (born 1966)[4] is a New Zealand evolutionary molecular biologist and ancient DNA researcher. He is the director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, South Australia.[5][1][6]

Early life and education[edit]

Cooper was born in Dunedin, New Zealand and grew up in Wellington, New Zealand, where he was involved in cave exploration at university and regional level. He was awarded a PhD from the Victoria University of Wellington in 1994[7][4] for evolutionary studies of New Zealand birds.[7] During his PhD he also worked at the University of California, Berkeley supervised by Allan C. Wilson and Svante Pääbo.[8]

Career and research[edit]

Cooper is known as one of the pioneers of ancient DNA research, performing some of the first polymerase chain reaction-based studies with Svante Paabo and Allan C. Wilson at UC Berkeley in 1989. In 2001, he used these methods to characterise the first complete mitochondrial genome sequences from extinct species, two New Zealand moa.[9]

Cooper established the Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre at the University of Oxford in 1999. In 2002, he was awarded a Title of Distinction as Professor of Ancient Biomolecules at Oxford.[10] He directed the centre until his relocation in 2005 to the University of Adelaide where he established the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.

In 2000, with Henrik Poinar, he suggested that the standards of much ancient DNA research were insufficient to rule out contamination, especially in studies of ancient humans.[11] Cooper has analysed ancient DNA from extinct species preserved in permafrost areas of Alaska and the Yukon,[12] and cave and archaeological deposits around the world. He has published on the evolutionary history of enigmatic extinct species such as: New Zealand moa and Madagascan elephant bird (Aepyornis), the dodo (Raphus cucullatus), American lion (P. leo atrox) and cheetah-like cat (Miracinonyx), North and South American horses (stilt-legged horse, Hippidion), steppe bison, bears (Arctodus, U. arctos), cave hyenas (Crocuta spelaea) and the Falkland Islands wolf (Dusicyon australis). He has also shown that the calcified plaque on the teeth of ancient skeletons can be used to reconstruct the evolution of the human microbiome through time.[13]


Cooper resigned from his post at the University of Oxford in 2005, following an investigation relating to academic misconduct and fabricated material in grant applications.[14] In 2019 the University of Adelaide comissionnd an external firm to investigate complaints of bullying and harassment made by numerous current and former students.[15][16] The university suspended Cooper following the information from the 'culture check'.[17][18]

Awards and honours[edit]


  1. ^ a b Alan J. Cooper publications indexed by Google Scholar Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^ Shapiro, Beth Alison (2003). Inferring evolutionary history and processes using ancient DNA. (DPhil thesis). Oxford: University of Oxford. OCLC 56923402.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Gilbert, Thomas (2003). An Assessment of the Use of Human Samples in Ancient DNA Studies (DPhil thesis). Oxford: University of Oxford.
  4. ^ a b "Alpha Series Issue 115: Alan Cooper". Royal Society of New Zealand. March 2003. Retrieved on 18 October 2014.
  5. ^ "RiAus: Alan Cooper", Royal Institution of Australia, Retrieved on 18 October 2014.
  6. ^ Alan Cooper's Entry at ORCID
  7. ^ a b Cooper, Alan (1994). Molecular evolutionary studies of New Zealand birds. (PhD thesis). Victoria University of Wellington. OCLC 154061907.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Research Profiles: Professor Alan Cooper". Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  9. ^ Cooper, Alan; Lalueza-Fox, Carles; Anderson, Simon; Rambaut, Andrew; Austin, Jeremy; Ward, Ryk (2001). "Complete mitochondrial genome sequences of two extinct moas clarify ratite evolution". Nature. 409 (6821): 704–707. doi:10.1038/35055536. ISSN 0028-0836.
  10. ^ "Supplement 1: Recognition of Distinction" Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine Oxford University Gazette 26 September 2002. Retrieved on 18 October 2014
  11. ^ Cooper, A. (2000). "Ancient DNA: Do It Right or Not at All". Science. 289 (5482): 1139b–1139. doi:10.1126/science.289.5482.1139b. ISSN 0036-8075.
  12. ^ Kahn, Jennifer. "Canada's Ancient Monsters on Ice", Discover, 28 March 2004. Retrieved on 18 October 2014
  13. ^ Adler, Christina J; Dobney, Keith; Weyrich, Laura S; Kaidonis, John; Walker, Alan W; Haak, Wolfgang; Bradshaw, Corey J A; Townsend, Grant; Sołtysiak, Arkadiusz; Alt, Kurt W; Parkhill, Julian; Cooper, Alan (2013). "Sequencing ancient calcified dental plaque shows changes in oral microbiota with dietary shifts of the Neolithic and Industrial revolutions". Nature Genetics. 45 (4): 450–455. doi:10.1038/ng.2536. ISSN 1061-4036. PMC 3996550.
  14. ^ "Oxford DNA lab leaderless" The Scientist 2 June 2005. Retrieved on 7 December 2014
  15. ^ "University of Adelaide to run probe into 'culture' at world-class ancient DNA lab" ABC News, 11 July 2019.
  16. ^ "University of Adelaide Investigates Ancient DNA Lab" The Scientist, 23 July 2019.
  17. ^ "Head of prestigious ancient-DNA lab suspended amid bullying allegations" Nature, 19 August 2019.
  18. ^ "'Paralysed by anxiety': researchers speak about life in troubled ancient-DNA lab" Nature, 23 August 2019.
  19. ^ [1] Retrieved on 8 August 2019
  20. ^ "Professor Alan Cooper is SA Scientist of the Year" Retrieved on 16 July 2019
  21. ^ "Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship: Alan Cooper" Archived 11 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine "Australian Research Council" Archived 22 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 7 December 2014
  22. ^ "Australian Centre for Ancient DNA: Research" Retrieved on 7 December 2014
  23. ^ "Australian Research Council Future Fellowships 2009" Archived 10 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine "Australian Research Council" Archived 22 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 7 December 2014
  24. ^ "Australian Research Council Federation Fellowships 2004" Archived 7 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine "Australian Research Council" Archived 22 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 7 December 2014
  25. ^ "Annual Report of the Institute of Zoology 2001/02" [Zoological Society of London] Retrieved on 7 December 2014
  26. ^ "Philip Leverhulme Prizes 2002" (PDF). Leverhulme Trust.[dead link] Retrieved on 7 December 2014