A prominent New Zealand scientist has been sacked following a probe into bullying allegations at his lab at an Australian university.

The University of Adelaide this evening announced it had fired renowned evolutionary molecular biologist Professor Alan Cooper, who had directed its Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD).

Cooper had been suspended since September, after the university had commissioned an independent "culture check" which involved an external consultant interviewing past and present students.

In a statement sent to media today, the university stated it had terminated Cooper's employment for "reasons of serious misconduct".


The university said it took "seriously its commitment to the welfare of students and staff", and noted Cooper's dismissal did "not relate to the quality or integrity of his research or any other research conducted with [ACAD]".

It wouldn't be commenting further.

One of those who provided submissions to the inquiry was Dr Nic Rawlence, now director of the University of Otago's Palaeogenetics Laboratory, who wrote that he'd left ACAD with "literally no confidence" and severe health problems.

"In many ways it has taken me six years to recover from ACAD, while in some I still haven't," he wrote.

"While I'm now confident in my writing and public speaking, I'm still left with health issues, (which are flooding back writing this), from my time at ACAD."

Cooper, named South Australian Scientist of the Year in 2016, has played an influential role in the field of ancient DNA, in an academic career that has taken him from Victoria University, to the Smithsonian Institution, and the Oxford University.

He moved to the University of Adelaide in 2005 and later set up ACAD there, helping change what is known about the ancient origins of species, including kiwi.

Earlier this year, the New Zealand Association of Scientists released a statement urging institutions to take allegations of bullying seriously.


"Most importantly, open discussions on expected behaviour in science need to be facilitated," its then president, Heide Friedrich, said.

New Zealand has lacked a clear definition of bullying that matched formal definitions of "harassment".

But the Royal Society Te Apārangi's new Code of Professional Standards now called for members to demonstrate ethical behaviour and professional standards by "avoid[ing] falsely, vexatiously or maliciously impugning the reputations of colleagues or otherwise compromising or denigrating them in order to achieve commercial, professional or personal advantages".