March 8, 2017

SPECIAL LECTURE by Professor David Lambert of Griffith University Australia

Profesor David Lambert, an evolutionary biologist from Griffith University in Australia gave a lecture to an audience of molecular biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and journalists on 8 March 2017 at Eijkman Institute. Prof. Lambert used to work on evolutionary rates of Adelie penguins of the Antartica, phylogeny of the flightless bird moa, building mitochondrial haplotypes of Brown Kiwi, and identified the mummified Ibis from Egyptian era. Nowadays, he works on ancient and contemporary genomics of Aboriginal Australians.

The late Alan Thorne argued for an independent origin of some human populations, including Aboriginal Australians, known as the multiregional theory. In 2001, Alan Thorne and his colleagues published putative ancient DNA sequences of some Aboriginal Australians, including Mungo Man, the oldest known Aboriginal Australian. Controversially, the authors suggested that the latter was not an Aboriginal Australian but instead represented an earlier extinct human lineage. In partnership with the Willandra Lakes Elders, Prof. Lambert retested this research and reported the results in 2016.  They rejected the authenticity of the DNA sequences reported by Thorne and his colleagues, suggesting that they were likely contaminants. Prof. Lambert and his team showed that Aboriginal Australians were undoubtedly the First People of this land, based on authentic ancient DNA obtained from the remains of a person buried close to Mungo Man. 

In parallel, Prof. Lambert and his team have recently reported the results of a contemporary genomic study of a 83 Aboriginal Australians from across the continent and 25 individuals from highland Papua New Guinea in order to better understand human origins. From these data, they showed that humans likely migrated out-of-Africa as a single population, refuting the multiregional theory. In addition, they estimated the time of separation of Aboriginal Australians and Papuans from Eurasians to be at around 58,000 years ago. Meanwhile, the Aboriginal Australians and Papuans were estimated to be separated at around 37,000 years ago, long before the separation of the Sahul land in which Torres Strait was only formed at around 10,000 years ago.  This research was published in Nature in 2016 entitled "A genomic history of Aboriginal Australia".

In order to answer many more lingering questions of migration history on this region, it is also important to look at the Indonesian part of Papua, which is also highly diverse in terms of genetics and languages. Prof. Herawati Sudoyo showed the audience that Eijkman Institute had been work on this area in early 2000s and although there was a long pause, the research on Papuans has been continued since 2016.

Eijkman Institute and Griffith University were also discussing the possibility for collaboration, as it will be an important step towards understanding the connection between Papua populations and Aboriginal Australians. 

News about the event: Kompas, Kompas.com, CNN Indonesia, Antara