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.”
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