From dinosaur teeth to quantum computing, U of T researchers made major strides in scientific research. Keep reading below for highlights from U of T’s scientific record in 2018:


Researchers identify key player in cell metabolism

Previous studies reported that a molecule known as EXD2 could be located within the nucleus, but its precise function and location within a cell were unclear. In January, Dr. Etienne Coyaud and Dr. Brian Raught of U of T’s Department of Medical Biophysics discovered that EXD2 is found in the mitochondria. Using fruit fly models, the researchers also found EXD2 is involved in the cellular metabolic process.

Selective pressures led to loss of weaponized tails in turtles

Dr. Victoria Arbour, a postdoctoral fellow in the Evans Lab and the Royal Ontario Museum, led research that determined early turtle ancestors had spiked tails for defense. Over time, turtles lost their tails in favour of improved locomotive, feeding, and defensive traits.

U of T research group developed catalyst that turns carbon dioxide into plastic

A group led by Dr. Ted Sargent, professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, developed a copper catalyst that produces hydrocarbon products like ethylene, which are used to make plastic, from carbon dioxide, water, and energy. This method could alleviate some of the heavy environmental costs associated with producing plastic products.


Plant microbiomes could mirror human gut bacteria

There are significant differences between the microbiome inside and the microbiome around the roots of plants. UTM PhD candidate Connor Fitzpatrick compared the role of the plants’ microbiomes to the role of gut bacteria in humans, writing to The Varsity in an email that “a really intriguing picture has begun to emerge, one suggesting that much of the evolution on our planet and the ecological dynamics can be attributed to interactions with microorganisms.”

Stressed mice help explain biological basis for depression

Researchers from U of T, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and The Hospital for Sick Children applied whole-brain structural covariance to mice to better understand the biological basis of depression in humans. The mice models’ brain activity was similar to the brain activity of young adults who suffered from childhood stress and trauma and later suffered from depression.

Rotman study finds that eye movements are critical for memory recall

Researchers at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest discovered a link between eye movement and memory recall. The authors reported in Cerebral Cortex that patterns in eye movement are associated with lucid memorization and could help monitor memory decline and other medical issues. While limitations exist, the findings could have valuable clinical applications.

New device makes labs more accessible

Dr. Ronald Soong, a senior research associate in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at UTSC, worked with Accessibility Services to develop a device that could make laboratories more accessible. Soong invented a device that can transfer precise amounts of liquids using a mechanical arm, as well as record and report changes to these solutions.


Life-saving machine mimics the body to sustain pre-transplant kidneys

Researchers from the University Health Network, The Hospital for Sick Children, and the Canadian National Transplant Research Program invented a machine capable of maintaining organs outside of the body in preparation for transplant. The machine maintains optimal conditions for organs like kidneys, which are the most frequently transplanted solid organs in Canada.

Krkosek lab develops model to research social learning in fish populations

The Krkosek Lab in U of T’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology determined that young fish learn social behaviour from their adult counterparts while migrating. Learning from adults of different schools could allow young fish to integrate into different population centres, increasing the genetic diversity of successive generations of fish.

Researchers adapt cancer symptom phone app to Canadian standards

Dr. Doris Howell of U of T’s Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing adapted the British Advanced Symptom Management System phone app for Canadian cancer patients. The app allows patients to record the side-effects of cancer treatment in real-time, providing personalized information with which health care providers can work.


Jane Goodall speaks at U of T on Earth Day

Dr. Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, delivered a public address in Convocation Hall for Earth Day 2018. Goodall recounted her life’s work in research, conservation, and activism.

U of T astronomers publish study hinting at origins of interplanetary visitor

Discovered in late 2017, ‘Oumuamua was the first object ever detected at close range that did not originate in our solar system. Researchers from UTSC’s Centre for Planetary Sciences reported that the alien visitor originated from a binary star system.


U of T physicians and engineers collaborated to create a skin printer

Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering PhD candidate Navid Hakimi invented a 3D printer capable of applying human skin tissue that can set within two minutes on wounds. According to Hakimi, the portable device could cater to patients with unique wound characteristics.

Science Rendezvous brought science to the streets

Sometimes called the ‘Nuit Blanche of the sciences,’ Science Rendezvous returned to the UTSG campus for its tenth annual exhibition. Featuring events from all branches of the sciences, attendees of all ages watched robots being built, indulged in liquid nitrogen ice cream, and much more.


Raw Talk Live panelists share insights on science literacy and engagement

Students from U of T’s Institute of Medical Science spearheaded Raw Talk Podcast to communicate scientific research to the public. The team hosted a live panel for the first time in June and discussed the role of scientists in public outreach, new methods for science communication, and more.


Differences in grey matter density in two brain regions may explain food-related decision-making

A study by Dr. Cendri Hutcherson, Director of the Toronto Decision Neuroscience Lab, found that the greater the grey matter volume of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the greater the likelihood that an individual would exercise dietary self-control. Further studies could attempt to discover what in particular affects these areas of the brain, potentially allowing for medical intervention.

Researchers recover ‘lost’ memories in mice

The Frankland Lab at The Hospital for Sick Children published a study wherein mice were optically stimulated to trigger their neurons, leading to a recovery of memories from early childhood. The findings might have applications in human memory disorders.


International researchers model molecules with quantum computing

An international group of researchers including U of T’s Dr. Alán Aspuru-Guzik, Canada 150 Research Chair in Theoretical & Quantum Chemistry, calculated the ground-state energy of molecular hydrogen and lithium hydride using a quantum computer. The calculation demonstrates the power of quantum computing.

U of T undergrads investigated risk-taking in earthworms

In a study originally carried out as part of BIO318: Animal Behaviour, recent UTM graduates Oskar Shura and Pawandeep Sandhu found that starved earthworms were more likely to take the risk of being exposed to light in search of food than earthworms whose hunger was satiated.


University Health Network researchers find insulin could play a role in the immune system

Dr. Sue Tsai and Dr. Dan Winer of the University Health Network discovered that insulin also strengthens the body’s immune system by stimulating T cell activation and proliferation. Stemming from a study regarding the response of obese individuals to vaccinations, the study’s conclusions has led Tsai to believe that there may be further medical applications for insulin.

Researchers identify a Neanderthal-Denisovan hybrid

In a study published in Nature, an international team of researchers including U of T Assistant Professor Bence Viola discovered that a bone fragment belonged to a hybrid Neanderthal-Denisovan, two species that descended from Homo erectus alongside modern humans. The findings hinted at interbreeding habits of early human relatives.


UTM study shines light on sexual differences in animal mating behaviour

UTM researchers found that the most sexually attractive North American dance fly females were those with large inflatable abdominal sacs. According to lead author Dr. Rosalind Murray, female dance flies expend energy on ornamentation to attract the ‘food gifts’ that male mates bring.

U of T researchers investigated the health effects of indoor air quality

Though indoor air pollution is not often reported in the media, it still poses a threat to public health. Dr. Douglas Collins, a former postdoctoral fellow in U of T’s Abbatt Group, studied the effects of nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter on indoor air quality.


Suspended particulate matter could have drastic effects on our climate

Dr. Megan Willis, a former postdoctoral student in the Department of Chemistry, published an article in the Reviews of Geophysics on the consequences of anthropogenic atmospheric aerosols. One long-term consequence of anthropogenic aerosols is the ‘Arctic haze,’ which forms when wind currents cause aerosols to blanket the Arctic atmosphere.

U of T paleontologists discovered the origins of mammalian teeth

UTM professor Robert Reisz and former UTM PhD candidate Dr. Aaron LeBlanc published studies that revealed how mammalian teeth developed from the dentition of mammals’ earliest ancestors. The pair highlighted findings from herbivorous ornithopods, or dinosaurs that had unusual teeth to cope with the demands of their plant-based diet.


U of T team took second-place at International Genetically Engineered Machine competition

The International Genetically Engineered Machine Giant Jamboree competition invites the world’s best and brightest to demonstrate their achievements in the field of synthetic biology. The U of T team took home a silver medal for engineering E. coli to bind to waste particles and float to the surface of a bioreactor for easier removal.