Research undertaken by scientists at Griffith University’s Environmental Forensics
Laboratory is advancing the understanding of ancient DNA, with results that will impact
across many science disciplines.

The work, to be featured on this week’s ABC Catalyst program has been conducted by a

research team in Antarctica and at Griffith’s Nathan campus.

It involves recovering DNA sequences from ancient sub-fossil bones of Adélie penguins as well as from living birds.

With the help of Catalyst presenter Paul Willis, the Griffith team has used ancient DNA

sequences of varying ages up to 44,000 years old, to compare them with the DNA from

feet tissue of living Adélie penguins.

“Using this method, we have been able to estimate modern molecular rates of DNA

change and effectively determine how fast it changes over time,” said lead researcher

Professor David Lambert.

“The ancient bones underlie existing and abandoned breeding colonies from around the

Antarctic continent and are one of the richest sources of ancient DNA yet discovered,” he

said. “In comparing these sequences we are able to build up a picture of the speed of

DNA change over time.”

Professor Lambert said that these molecular rates are very important for use within a

range of science disciplines ranging from forensics to evolutionary biology.

“For example, in forensic science, you need to know how fast DNA changes in order to be able to accurately identify individuals from tissue left at a crime scene.

“Or another example is if you want to discover when a past evolutionary event occurred,

then you need a timescale. Knowing the speed of DNA change over any given time period will provide an improved framework for estimating the timing of such events.”

– Catalyst will appear on ABC Television on Thursday, 26 May at 8pm.