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Director, Hamish Spencer, responds to the Government decision not to refund the Allan Wilson Centre.
Some of you will be aware of the news that the AWC’s application for continued funding in the latest Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) round was unsuccessful. This result means that the AWC will close at the end of this year, and the support for our science projects and outreach programmes will cease. I have to say I am extremely disappointed by this outcome, but I am not alone. Massey Vice Chancellor, Professor Steve Maharey wrote, "The Government's decision to end funding for the CoRE is not easy to understand given the outstanding record established by the AWC...
Over 4000 people, including 1500 students, flocked to hear expatriate NZer, Professor Tom Higham (University of Oxford), the last speaker in the AWC's international speaker series. His update on ancient human history in Europe did not disappoint. Tom is an expert on carbon dating, and has been able to refine the date at which Neanderthals disappeared to 39,000-41,000 years ago. The newcomers, Homo sapiens sapiens - that's us - interbred with Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans, and carry some of their genes to this day. Understanding why our fellow humans became extinct is work in progress.
When neanderthals and modern humans met (YouTube video)
Results of the Africa to Aotearoa Project on the deep ancestry of New Zealanders. In 2013, Lisa Matisoo-Smith, one of the Principal Investigators in the Allan Wilson Centre, was awarded a James Cook Fellowship from the Royal Society of New Zealand to undertake a genetic ancestry study of New Zealanders. After collecting over 2000 samples from New Zealanders from across the country, the results are now in. Lisa will discuss her findings regarding the many pathways our ancestors took which ultimately brought each of us here and address the question ‘What does it mean to be a New Zealander?’
Free Public talks
GISBORNE: Turanganui Room, Quality Hotel Emerald, 13 Gladstone Road.
Wednesday 11 November, 6-7pm (preceded by drinks at 5.30pm).
Email: , RSVP 05 November 2015.
Who do you think you are New Zealand?
It’s old news that not everyone can smell certain odours, and that different people respond to the same odour in different ways. With modern genomic tools we can now understand the underlying genetic variation that influences what odours people can smell and perhaps food preferences across populations and ethnic groups. Come along and discover what odours people can and cannot smell, and how this probably impacts on your preference for different foods and beverages.
Where does that leave the wine and food critics?
Free Public talks
NELSON: Old St Johns, 320 Hardy Street. Tuesday 13 October, 6pm.
QUEENSTOWN: The Rees Hotel Queenstown, Conference Room, 377 Frankton Road. Wednesday 14 October, 5.30pm. In association with The Catalyst Trust.
Richard Newcomb’s Genes’n’Roses talk in Nelson and Queenstown
Human evolution from 60,000 – 30,000 years ago. 60,000 years ago we were not the only species of humans in the world. There were at least three others — Neanderthals, the Denisovans and the so-called Hobbit (Homo floriensis). We now know through ancient DNA research that our species, Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH), and Neanderthals, probably interbred prior to the wider dispersal of modern people. Recent research will help us to understand how we came to be the only human species on Earth. In this talk Tom will focus on what happened after moderns came out of Africa and describe new research on the chronology of these events.
Birds are the living descendants of dinosaurs. This theory, based on the study of fossilised bones, is now accepted by most evolutionists. What is less well known is that the genomes of birds - comprised of over 1 billion DNA letters and thousands of genes - bear traces of their dinosaur ancestry as well. Modern genomics reveals how bird genomes reflect their streamlined and high-energy lifestyles, epitomized by their ability to fly.
Public talks were, 11 August (6.00pm) in Wellington, 12 August (6.00pm) in Napier, 13 August (6.00pm) in Christchurch, 14 August (6.00pm) in Nelson, 17 August (6.30pm) in Dunedin, 18 August (6.30pm) in Palmerston North, 19 August (6.30pm) in Tauranga and 20 August (6.15pm) in Auckland.
These will complete her 2000 sample ancient ancestry study of New Zealanders, which will map the diverse origins of our people and their different journeys to Aotearoa/New Zealand. Her research project, entitled The Longest Journey – from Africa to Aotearoa, is funded by a James Cook Fellowship and the National Geographic Genographic Project, and supported by the Allan Wilson Centre.
Media Release London (19 May 2015)
Ancient DNA: Secrets from the past talk by Dr Craig Millar
Early forensic and ancient DNA methods could only recover small amounts of DNA information from relatively large quantities of well-preserved tissue. From these humble beginnings, ancient DNA research has now developed into a well-established research field used by biologists, geologists and anthropologists. Recent advances in DNA sequencing methods have led to the retrieval of entire ancient genomes from the extinct New Zealand moa and Egyptian bird mummies. In his talk, Dr Craig Millar will outline this ever-advancing research field and discuss how it has allowed us to unlock some of the best-kept secrets of our recent past.
Public talks, NELSON: Old St Johns, 320 Hardy Street, Tuesday 26 May, 6pm
QUEENSTOWN: The Rees Conference Centre, 377 Frankton Road, Wednesday 27 May, 5.30pm
Ancient DNA: Secrets from the past talk Flyer
Size Does Matter - Gisborne Free public talk by Peter Ritchie
Contemporary fishing practices aim to catch only the larger fish as a way of protecting the reproductive chances of the younger ones. But advances in fishing techniques over the last hundred years have enabled some big catches. They have been so big, that humans might have become a new evolutionary force on the planet.
The latest science tells us we may need to reconsider our traditional size-selective approach and develop a size-balanced approach to fishing pressure.
Public talk, GISBORNE: Join us at the Turanganui Room, Quality Hotel Emerald, 13 Gladstone Road.
Thursday 14 May, 7-8pm (preceded by drinks at 6.30pm).
Size Does Matter Flyer
The dwindling wildlife species of our planet have become a cause célèbre for conservation groups, governments and concerned citizens throughout the world. Powerful genetic technologies have revolutionised our ability to recognize hidden perils that afflict threatened animals, and revealed long-forgotten adaptive adventures that have left their footprints in the genomes of tigers, cheetahs and the Florida panther. The mix of conservation, global politics and science reasoning makes for fascinating narratives, with lessons for stabilising our fragile wildlife species.
Public talks were held, 21 April (6.00pm) in Wellington, 22 April (6.00pm) in Nelson, 23 April (6.30pm) in Christchurch, 24 April (6.30pm) in Dunedin, 28 April (6.30pm) in Palmerston North, 29 April (6.30pm) in Tauranga and 30 April (6.15pm) in Auckland.
A moving landscape of wildlife genetics Flyer
The AWC is sponsoring The Power of Many
The AWC is sponsoring The Power of Many session at the conference: A Place to Live...for the life worth having, Whanganui 16-19 November.
Are our bodies and brains truly at odds with modern life? Everyone is fond of paleofantasies, stories about how humans lived eons ago, and we use them to explain why many elements of our lives, from the food we eat to the way we raise our children, seem very distant from what nature intended. Many diets and self-help books are predicated on the notion that our behaviour and bodies evolved under a certain set of circumstances, from which we deviate to our peril. Implicit in that idea is the assumption that humans in a modern society aren't evolving any more, that we have somehow freed ourselves from evolution, or at the very least, that evolution always requires so long to act that we can't expect to have adapted to our current circumstances. But popular theories about how our ancestors lived and why we should emulate them are often based on speculation, not scientific evidence, and they reflect a basic misunderstanding about how evolution works. There was never a time when everything about us – our bodies, our minds, and our behaviour – was perfectly in synch with the environment.
Public talks were held, 31 October - 12 November 2014 in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Nelson, Hamilton, Tauranga, Christchurch and Dunedin.
In the 155 years since Darwin’s Origin of Species, biologists have developed sophisticated ways to uncover and study the hidden shared ancestry of all life from genetic data. While Darwin was able to formulate his ideas without using mathematics, he later wrote how he regretted not having studied that subject further. Mathematics has since become an essential tool that allows biologists to tease apart evolutionary signal from noise and bias in data, and to build reliable trees and networks of species. Biologists use these trees widely: for example, to classify new species, trace human migrations, and to help predict next year’s influenza strain. In this talk, Professor Mike Steel provides an overview of how ideas from maths and stats have become central to the study and visualizing of evolution.
Public talks were held, 21 - 22 October 2014 in Nelson and Wanaka.
Photo credit: 1879, Charles Darwin. Elliott & Fry
In 2014 we celebrate 50 years of rodent eradications (Norway rats from Maria Island in the Hauraki Gulf), and in 2015 we celebrate 100 years of ungulate eradications (goats from South East Island in The Chathams). But just how far have we come with eradications, how much further is there to go and how do we stack up against our international counterparts? Attitudes to pests and their control are playing an ever more important role in conservation decision-making.
Free public talk was held, 11 September 2014 in Gisborne.
Is New Zealand the world’s eradication hotspot?
The ancient ancestry of 100 Wellingtonians, including the Governor General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, was revealed by Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith at an event at Government House on Wednesday 27 August.
Genetic studies indicate that we can all ultimately trace our origins to Africa. About 65,000 years ago modern humans started expanding across the globe. The final landmass settled by humans was Aotearoa/New Zealand, just 750 years ago. While Maori were the first to arrive, they were joined by later migrants, primarily from Europe, Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Free public talk was held, 12-13 August 2014 in Nelson and Queenstown.
What does it mean to be a New Zealander?
Public talk was held, 14 July 2014 in Wellington.
Mitochondria are the little powerhouses of our cells, and are central to all multi-cellular life. They have their own DNA, which is separate from the cell’s nuclear genes that affect most of our features. Unlike most of our genes, this mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is almost always inherited solely through the female line.
Free public talk was held, 3 July 2014 in Gisborne.
Why men can blame their mums for almost everything
Public talks were held, 20 - 23 June 2014 in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.
With support from the Royal Society of New Zealand and University of Otago.
See Doctor Jane Goodall for her only television interview while she's in New Zealand, with reporter Whena Owen on TV3’s Campbell Live (Thursday 19 June 2014).
Jane and the chimpanzees – our closest relatives (Video)
Listen to the Radio NZ National Kathryn Ryan interview with world-renowned primatologist and conservationist Doctor Jane Goodall.
Radio New Zealand National, Thursday 19 June 2014
Nature provides us with fresh, purified water for drinking and for recreational use. It is one of a number of services provided by our ecosystem and critically important for our health and wellbeing. It seems a contradiction that New Zealand is renowned for a pristine environment and yet we have some of the highest rates of illness from contaminated water in the developed world. In this talk the reasons for this will be explored by examining when, where and how we come into contact with waterborne diseases such as Giardia and Campylobacter, and how those diseases are passed from farmed livestock and wildlife to people. As a result of recent scientific advances, we can now estimate how important cattle, sheep and wild birds are as sources of these diseases, but will this information help to reduce water contamination and lower the rates of disease in people?
Free public talk was held, 18-19 June 2014 in Nelson and Wanaka.
What’s in our Water?
Well aware of the consequences of inbreeding among domestic animals and plants, Darwin was concerned about the possibility of similar effects in humans. In Victorian society, first-cousin marriage was not uncommon, especially among the moneyed classes, but in most Western countries today, such unions are controversial and rare.
Public talks was held, 8 May June 2014 in Gisborne.
Charles Darwin and beer advertising
A University of Otago study, supported by the Allan Wilson Centre, is using ancient-DNA evidence and archaeology to build a picture of New Zealand’s coastal life at the time of human arrival here. This new evidence from a range of iconic species - penguins, sea-lions, fur-seals, elephant seals and shags - is revealing a dynamic story of species extinction and replacement around our coasts.
Public talks was held, 8 May June 2014 in Gisborne.
Let’s discover prehistoric New Zealand
In a world supposedly governed by ruthless survival of the fittest, why do we see acts of goodness in both animals and humans? This problem plagued Charles Darwin in the 1850s as he developed his theory of evolution through natural selection. Indeed, Darwin worried that the goodness he observed in nature could be the Achilles heel of his theory. Ever since then, scientists and other thinkers have engaged in a fierce debate about the origins of goodness that has dragged politics, philosophy, and religion into what remains a major question for evolutionary biology.
Mental deficiency was the target of eugenicists early last century. They took action to segregate or sterilize affected individuals. But, apparently, they made an astoundingly simple mistake: a basic understanding of genetics seemingly suggests that this approach could never be successful.
Free public talk was held, 1 April 2014 in Nelson.
Did Eugenics Rest on an Elementary Mistake?
Could restoration efforts include having special species like tuatara in your backyard? And what does sex determination have to do with conservation? Nicky Nelson, a Principal Investigator with the Allan WIlson Centre, will challenge you to think about the implications of having a sex determining system influenced by temperature and how that might affect conservation efforts in a warming climate. Her case study on tuatara will demonstrate why efforts to restore the mainland allow us to improve the long-term outlook for populations of treasured species like tuatara, as part of functioning ecosystems in healthy landscapes where people thrive because they are connected to their environment and culture.
Free public talk was held, 20 March 2014 in Gisborne.
Healthy Environment, Healthy People and Tuatara for Future Generations
The Allan Wilson Centre (AWC) is delighted to host the visit by a team from National Geographic’s Genographic Project, led by Dr Spencer Wells. The Allan Wilson Centre, together with National Geographic, will host a public event in Wellington at the Royal Society Auditorium on Tuesday 4th March. The highlight of the event will be a DNA cheek swab, where 100 volunteers will have the opportunity to trace their ancient family history with the Geno 2.0 DNA Ancestry Kit. Their ancestry will be revealed through the Genographic Project, a study that has involved more than 650,000 people in 130 Countries around the world. Visit www.genographic.com to learn more.
Prior to the swab event, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Genographic Project Director Spencer Wells will join Genographic Project Principal Investigator in New Zealand, Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith, to give a public lecture on the project:
The Human Journey: A Genetic Odyssey
Who are we? And where do we come from? The story of humanity’s journey can be found within each of us — encoded in our DNA. The Genographic Project is a multi-year global initiative that is gathering and analysing the world’s largest collection of anthropological DNA samples in the hope it will capture an invaluable genetic snapshot of humanity before modern-day influences erase it forever.
The new Geno 2.0 DNA Ancestry Kit uses cutting-edge technology to give you the richest ancestry information available. Participants will learn what percentage of their DNA is affiliated with specific regions of the world and if they have traces of Neanderthal ancestry.
See https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/about/ to learn more about the study and methods.
In addition to this event, AWC Principal Investigator Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith is now undertaking a New Zealand specific research project, Africa to Aotearoa – the Longest Journey, to analyse the mtDNA and Y chromosome markers of 2000 New Zealanders. The project is funded by the Genographic Project, a James Cook Research Fellowship and additional AWC support. Lisa has so far collected 600 samples, including over 200 from Wellington. (http://www.africatoaotearoa.otago.ac.nz/)
Media enquiries to 027 210 0997
Gitschier J. (2007) "Off the Beaten Path: An Interview with Spencer Wells".
Nature, Nurture or Neither? The more we know about genetics, the more important environment seems to be
Professor Steve Jones, University College london geneticist and popular science writer, looks at the implications for our big obsessions: obesity, IQ, the education system, and sporting ability.
Public talks were held, 18 - 26 November 2013 in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Nelson and Dunedin.
Professor Mark Pagel FRS, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Reading University
Human beings speak approximately 7,000 mutually unintelligible languages around the world, giving our species the curious distinction that the majority of us cannot understand what most other people are saying.
Public talks were held, 12 - 20 November 2013 in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Nelson and Dunedin.
Web Flyer available here
Audio of the recent lecture by Professor Mark Pagel is now available
The Evolution of Human Languages 1/6 (28,129 KB)
The Evolution of Human Languages 2/6 (28,124 KB)
The Evolution of Human Languages 3/6 (28,126 KB)
The Evolution of Human Languages 4/6 (28,126 KB)
The Evolution of Human Languages 5/6 (28,126 KB)
The Evolution of Human Languages 6/6 (11,877 KB)
While in New Zealand, Professor Pagel talked about his work with Kim Hill, on Radio NZ’s Saturday morning programme. You can listen to the interview here.
Radio New Zealand National, Saturday 2 March 2013
Click here for details of our previous public lectures
Avoiding Global Collapse
How a combination of cultural and genetic evolution has taken us to the brink. Can we evolve our way out of it?
Renowned ecologist Paul Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University and president of Stanford’s Centre for Conservation Biology. Professor Ehrlich will discuss the ongoing legacy of Allan Wilson in establishing humanity’s place in the natural world, and in the growing importance of understanding cultural evolution in influencing how Homo sapiens are changing that world and its own life-support systems. He will explain how the two kinds of evolution have interacted to create the human predicament - the imminent threat of a collapse of civilization. He will then discuss the evolutionary steps necessary to avoid that dénouement.
Public talks were held, 23 October - 1 November 2013 in Hamilton, Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Planet Without Apes
Can we live with the consequences of wiping our closest living relatives off the face of the earth?
Leading primatologist Craig Stanford, Professor of Biological Sciences & Anthropology and Co-Director of the Jane Goodall Research Centre at the University of Southern California, warns that extinction of the great apes threatens to become a reality within just a few human generations. We are on the verge of losing the last precious links to our evolutionary past and the biological knowledge about ourselves that would die along with them. Stanford sees great apes as not only intelligent but also possessed of a culture: they are both toolmakers and social beings capable of passing knowledge down through generations.
Public talks were held, 30 August - 7 September 2013 in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Venus: A Quest
Award-winning artist and author Dylan Horrocks takes us on a fascinating journey through astronomy, evolution, genetics and nanotechnology, and their relevance to us as New Zealanders. The documentary includes coverage of the Transit of Venus and Forum activities in Tolaga Bay and Gisborne in June 2012. It is dedicated to the memory of the great New Zealand scientist Sir Paul Callaghan, and includes a special interview with him made last year. Venus: A Quest, is produced by Point of View Productions and sponsored by the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology & Evolution, the MacDiarmid Institute, Victoria University of Wellington and the Eastland Community Trust.
Public talks were held, 16 - 29 November 2012 in Tolaga Bay, Gisborne, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Copies of the DVD are available. Please contact .
Origin of our Species
Professor Chris Stringer, Palaeontologist and Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum, London addressed major questions in human evolution, including: How do we define modern humans? What do the genetic data and radiocarbon dating really tell us? Were our origins solely in Africa? Are modern humans a distinct species from ancient people such as the Neanderthals and Denisovans? How different are we from them? What contact did our ancestors have with them? When did humans first inhabit Britain?
Public talks were held, 22 - 25 February 2012 in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Further information about Professor Stringer’s work is available from his website.
Radio New Zealand National, Saturday 25 February 2012
Natural History Museum
Out of Africa
Allan Wilson's former graduate student Professor Rebecca Cann (University of Hawaii) gave a series of six lectures commemorating his life and work. A recording of her lecture in Wellington on August 5th 2011 can be downloaded from here. You can also hear her speaking with Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand's Saturday Morning show.
Public talks were held, 1 - 9 August 2011 in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Nelson and Dunedin.
Further information about Professor Stringer’s work is available from his website.
View the whole event
Radio New Zealand National, Saturday 6 August 2011