Ancient DNA in soil records history of climate change


Alan Cooper is investigating ancient DNA in soil and sediments, which can date back almost 50,000 years. Ancient DNA could be used to explain the evolutionary processes associated with past global events that triggered climate change.

Research findings

Alan Cooper has a prestigious position as Federation Fellow at The University of Adelaide. He is investigating the potential for ancient DNA samples in soil and sediments to hold the key to explaining evolutionary processes associated with past global events that triggered climate change. His exciting research seems a long way away from soil science but he showed how understanding the mechanisms of interactions between soil particles and biological substances such as DNA could improve the recovery of delicate biological materials from soil. This ancient DNA might hold a key to understanding our past and predicting our future. Interestingly, some genetic information from ancient DNA belongs to microorganisms as well as plants and animals, so new information about ancient soil microbiology is now available. This was not possible from conventional studies of soil and sediments because they only provided plant histories based on observing pollen.

Of even greater interest is the potential for the ancient DNA to date back almost 50,000 years. This is a very long time for preservation of material of this kind, it is astounding. The research is highly technical and although modern DNA can be a major problem as contamination, these technical difficulties are being overcome. The research is very new and we look forward to exciting announcements in the future. Clearly, soil science has an important role to play in the research to understand how DNA interacts with clays and other soil particles.


Cooper A (2006) Keynote Presentation at the Combined National Conference on Soils, Adelaide, Dec 2006.


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