The leader of Australia’s premier ancient DNA lab, Alan Cooper, has been suspended following a probe into the ‘culture’ of the centre and amid allegations of bullying from his co-workers. Cooper is renowned for reconstructing how humans populated the planet using ancient DNA.
On Monday, the University of Adelaide notified students and staff at the prestigious Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) that Cooper has been suspended pending “further processes”.
Cooper’s suspension follows the university engaging an external firm to conduct a “culture check” of ACAD in July. “Following on from the information provided, the University has decided to take further action,” a spokesperson from the university told Nature.
Although the university did not name Cooper as a focus of the probe, and did not say what prompted the probe, allegations that he had bullied students had surfaced on social media and blogs a month earlier.
Several researchers who have worked for Cooper — some of whom gave evidence to the probe and include current members of his research group — have told Nature that he bullied them; several more say that they observed him bullying members of his team.
Cooper declined to comment on his suspension and on the bullying accusations at the current time.
Nic Rawlence, a former student of Cooper’s at ACAD, made a submission to the probe about being bullied by Cooper. He was one of the few who spoke to Nature and agreed to be named. He thinks Cooper’s suspension suggests that the university is taking the allegations and the evidence from the probe seriously. “I still think permanent change for the better is needed,” he says.
Cooper started up ACAD in early 2005, after coming to prominence for pioneering ancient DNA extraction techniques and championing authentication processes in a field where contamination of ancient samples with modern DNA was rife.
A spokesperson from the University of Adelaide confirmed that Cooper had been suspended but said it would not be commenting further.