Dr Oliver proves you’re never too old to learn

Keith Oliver has completed a doctorate in biological science at the age of 79.
Keith Oliver has completed a doctorate in biological science at the age of 79.

The Hamersley resident has four degrees and continues to publish papers on his research into evolution and DNA.

Dr Oliver has been associated with Murdoch since the 1980s, first as an honorary research associate, then earning a biological science degree with first-class honours and a philosophy degree, and finally gaining a doctorate in biological science.

‘Study certainly has benefits for brain health as you age,’ Dr Oliver said.

‘University is for mature age students too, not just young people. It gives older people something to think about instead of just watching TV.

‘I’ve been interested in evolutionary theory for quite a long time ” I did part of my honours research on different aspects of it ” so I continue to pursue that as an adjunct to the university, which is purely voluntary now.

‘My current obsession is with retroviruses and the part they play in evolution.’

Dr Oliver came from humble beginnings in Victoria Park, leaving high school after two years and spending 10 years as a carpenter before going to Melbourne to study photography.

‘I returned to Perth and did my leaving certificate, which included studying physics, chemistry, mathematics, English and geology, before doing a diploma in applied chemistry and a degree in multi-disciplinary science,’ he said.

‘I then worked in film processing, as a shift chemist in Bunbury, and as a technician with the State Electricity Commission and a senior technician at WAIT/Curtin before taking early retirement to become a sole trader breeding hybrid kangaroo paws in the 1980s.

‘This is where my obsession with evolutionary theory started, through my reading on plant genetics. At first, I was opposed to evolutionary theory, but I slowly realised the current explanations simply weren’t complete.’

This led him to his TE-Thrust Hypothesis, which is focused on the ‘transposable’ elements of DNA, which had previously been termed ‘junk DNA’ by most scientists.

Dr Oliver and his colleagues found these elements were pivotal to the evolutionary process, as they have the ability to cut themselves from one location and move to another location, or make an RNA self-copy which results in the insertion of another DNA copy elsewhere. Thus, these processes could facilitate evolution.