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Top evolutionary geneticist Aneil Agrawal takes Steacie Prize

Photo of: Aneil Agrawal with a frog

Aneil Agrawal is working to advance our understanding of the evolutionary consequences of the flow of harmful mutations. Photo: Jennifer Hsu.

Professor Aneil Agrawal of the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Steacie Prize. The prize is awarded annually to an individual 40 years of age or younger for notable contributions to research in Canada.

“I am thrilled to receive this award and to shine a light on some of the exciting work happening in evolutionary biology at U of T,” said Agrawal. “I have greatly benefited from being in a department with outstanding colleagues and wonderful students.”

A Canada Research Chair and Distinguished Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, Agrawal is working to advance our understanding of the evolutionary consequences of the flow of harmful mutations. He investigates how genetic mutations enter populations, as well as how they may be removed by different forms of selection. Several of Agrawal’s groundbreaking experiments have demonstrated that sex evolves so that organisms can obtain genetic traits in order to adapt to new environments.

“Aneil is internationally recognized as one of the top evolutionary geneticists of his generation,” said David Cameron, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science. “His insightful and ground-breaking research has led to a truly outstanding publication record, an impressive string of national and international awards and prizes, and a reputation as one of the most brilliant and incisive thinkers in evolutionary biology. We are very proud he is part of the Arts & Science community.”

Although relatively early in his career, Agrawal’s work has already been recognized with a number of accolades. He was among the 2015 inductees to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada, and has received the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship (2013), the Robert H. Haynes Young Scientist Award from the Genetics Society of Canada (2007) and the Young Investigators’ Award from the American Society of Naturalists (2004).

In addition to being an exceptional scientist, Agrawal has been recognized with an Outstanding Teaching Award from the Faculty of Arts & Science. He is noted by students for “eloquent lectures that link teaching and research,” and of the many undergraduate students who work on experiments in his lab, several have published in important biology journals. Students describe Agrawal as a “most passionate, enthusiastic, reflective, caring and accessible teacher” whose courses on the mathematical and genetic foundations of evolutionary biology are considered among the most challenging in the department. Despite the difficulty of this material, students rate his courses very positively with re-take rates as high as 100 per cent.

Agrawal is the 19th UofT scientist to receive the Steacie Prize since it was created in 1964. The last recipients were electrical & computer engineering professor Edward (Ted) Sargent (2012), pharmacy professor Shana Kelley (2011), computer scientist Aaron Hertzmann (2010) and astronomer and astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana (2009). The prize is administered by the Trustees of the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fund, a private foundation dedicated to the advancement of science and engineering in Canada.

“We are profoundly grateful to the trustees of the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fund for their sustained commitment to recognizing and advancing science and engineering in Canada,” said Vivek Goel, U of T vice president of research and innovation. “The prize is a wonderful reminder to celebrate and encourage some of this country’s most extraordinary research talent. We are also deeply honoured that so many Steacie Prize recipients have chosen the University of Toronto as their home.”