U of T Scarborough researchers land more than $3 million in NSERC funding

Research at UTSC
Sixteen U of T Scarborough researchers recently received NSERC Discovery Grant funding.
Article Date

Professor Mary Silcox’s research is obsessed with understanding the evolution of early primates. Much of her work focuses specifically on brain evolution.

“I think it’s only natural to want to know more about our origins,” says Silcox, a vertebrate paleontologist in the department of anthropology at U of T Scarborough.

“What drives a lot of what I do is looking at what led to a separate trajectory for lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans based on the clues at our disposal, such as fossilized teeth, brain size and shape, as well as diet.”

A major challenge in studying the brain evolution of early primates is that brains don’t fossilize. As a result, researchers attempt to reconstruct the brains of our earliest ancestors by looking at both their living descendants, and to clues that can be gleaned from the inside of fossilized skulls.

Now, thanks to a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), she will be able to develop new methods to better untangle this mystery.

The funding will help study how changing diets influenced brain size and shape using a framework that includes fossils and living primates. The research also includes the development of a number of innovative technologies to expand understanding of teeth and the brains of early primates, including something called dental topography, which treats the surface of a tooth as a topographic map.

Silcox is one of 16 researchers at U of T Scarborough to receive an NSERC Discovery Grant for 2022. The grants help fund research programs natural science and engineering fields with stated long-term goals as opposed to single, short-term projects. Six researchers also received discovery launch supplement grants, and one received a research tool and instrument grant. 

“Congratulations to all of our faculty who received funding for their important and innovative research,” says Professor Irena Creed, U of T Scarborough’s vice-principal, research and innovation.

“These grants will go a long way in sustaining an existing culture of research excellence at U of T Scarborough, and will also help train the next generation of researchers here on campus.”

Discovery Grants:

Mary Silcox, Department of Anthropology and Health Studies – Expanding our horizons in understanding brain and dietary evolution in primates and their kin

Maydianne Andrade, Department of Biological Sciences – Untangling links between mating, plasticity, and invasiveness using widow spiders

Ina Anreiter, Department of Biological Sciences – The role of post-transcriptional regulation in feeding behavior and metabolism

Kathlyn Gan, Department of Biological Sciences – Molecular mechanisms of human synapse formation induced by secreted bloodborne factors

Nathan Lovejoy, Department of Biological Sciences – Phylogenics, biogeography, and evolution of fishes

Jason Weir, Department of Biological Sciences – Unlocking the genomics of species formation in Amazonian and high-latitude birds

Balint Virag, Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences – Random plane geometry

Yun William Yu, Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences – Data compression for biomedical data analysis

Sheyas Sekar, Department of Management – Analytics to combat fraudulent behaviour on online platforms

Philip Heron, Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences – Finding the fingerprint of mantle dynamics on plate tectonic processes

Marney Isaac, Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences – Nutrient acquisition strategies and plant-soil interactions in diversified agroecosystems

Bernie Kraatz, Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences – Molecular assemblies in solution and on surfaces

Mathews Wells, Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences – Impacts of stratified environmental flows upon the distribution of sediment and biology in lakes and the coastal ocean

Xiao-an Zhang, Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences – Development of Metalloporphyrin for Diversified Applications: from Contrast Agent for Magnetic Resonance Imaging to Electrocatalyst for Carbon Dioxide Reduction

Rutsuko Ito, Department of Psychology – Cortico-limbic-striatal network in stimulus and temporal control over adaptive behaviour

Robert Rozeske, Department of Psychology – Neural circuit mechanisms of defensive behaviour

 

Research Tools and Instruments Grants

Mathew Wells, Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences – Winterized hovercraft: a necessary sampling platform to study lakes in a changing climate.

 

Discovery Launch Supplement Grants

Ina Anreiter, Department of Biological Sciences

Kathlyn Gan, Department of Biological Sciences

Yun William Yu, Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Philip Heron, Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences

Robert Rozeske, Department of Psychology

Shreyas Sekar, Department of Management