Professor Marla B. Sokolowski

Professor Marla B. Sokolowski, BSc, PhD, F.R.S.C., Canada Research Chair in Genetics

Marla B. Sokolowski obtained her B.Sc. (1977) and Ph.D. (1981) from the University of Toronto. In 1982, at the age of 26, she became an Assistant Professor and NSERC University Research Fellow at York University where she remained as a Professor until 1999 when she was recruited by the University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM) as a Professor of Biology and a Canada Research Chair in Genetics. Prof. Sokolowski’s research has pioneered studies of the genetic and molecular underpinnings of normal variation in behaviour, using the fruit fly Drosophila as a model. Her major focus has been the regulation of food-related behaviours, and her team has uncovered genes and molecules that influence food intake and food-related locomotion in a variety of organisms. She is best known for her discovery of the foraging gene, a cGMP dependent protein kinase that encodes rover and sitter foraging behaviour in Drosophila. Interestingly, Prof. Sokolowski and her collaborators have shown that the foraging gene has been co-opted by evolution to play roles in food related behaviours in a wide range of invertebrates. Prof. Sokolowski’s preeminent research on genes involved in food intake and energy output has important and broad implications for energy homeostasis in mammals, including humans, holding promise for future understanding and treatment of food related disorders such as obesity.

Prof. Sokolowski’s research is impressively integrative, fusing diverse biological disciplines such as evolutionary biology, behaviour, neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics and genomics. Importantly, she has trail-blazed the development of a new branch of the field of Behaviour Genetics that addresses the genetic and molecular bases of natural individual differences in behaviour and she has developed the Drosophila larva as a model for gene discovery. Her innovative work continues to drive the field of behavioural genetics forward and is esteemed worldwide as a clear, integrative mechanistic paragon of the manner in which genes can interact with the environment, thus impacting behaviour. Prof. Sokolowski’s research stature is evident from her well-over 150 invited lectures and approximately 130 publications. She publishes her creative groundbreaking research in top journals, including: Science, Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A focus article in Science (January 7 2005, Vol 307) entitled A Genomic View of Animal Behaviour, places her research at the cutting-edge of a newly emerging field. Her research is held as a model for behaviour genetic research and is described in many introductory and advanced textbooks used in wide a variety of disciplines. Her discovery and cloning of the foraging gene received coverage in the popular press, including the New York Times and Melvin Konner’s classic popular science volume, The Tangled Wing. She is an award winning teacher and highly accomplished lecturer. She has supervised 19 postdoctoral fellows, 31 graduate students and 75 undergraduate students, with many of her trainees ascending to prestigious academic positions.

Her early honours and awards include the Dobzansky Memorial Award from the Behaviour Genetics Society, an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship, an NSERC University Research Fellowship, a Teaching Excellence Award and the Genetics Society of Canada Young Scientist Award. In 1991 she was awarded a one million dollar Human Frontier Sciences International Collaborative Research Grant and has received Distinguished Visiting Professorships in the US, Europe and Japan where she contributes regularly to graduate education. In 1998 she became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada for her pioneering work in the field of Behavioural Genetics. In 2001, she was awarded a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Genetics. In 2004 she became a Fellow of Massey College and in the same year she was the single investigator awarded a million dollar US National Institute of Health grant aimed at using Drosophila as a tool to identify genes involved in human obesity. She is currently a Weston Fellow of the Canadian Institutes for Advanced Research. In addition, she currently co-directs the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIfAR) programme on Experience based Brain and Biological Development and has recently been appointed the Director of the Life Sciences Division of the Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada.