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MSVU "Evo-Devo" Researcher Wins Prestigious Award

November 21, 2006

Source: Mount Saint Vincent University

Dr. Tamara Franz-Odendaal is Mount Saint Vincent Universityís (MSVU) first winner of the important Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) University Faculty Award. A woman scientist studying in the fastest-growing field in biology, Dr. Franz-Odendaal is the newest addition to the MSVU faculty.

"I am delighted that the University chose to nominate me for this award," says Dr. Franz-Odendaal. "And Iím looking forward to bringing my expertise to MSVU. My research program is novel as it combines the study of fossils (paleontology) with the study of body shape and development in living organisms. This combination is called evolutionary developmental biology or Ďevo-devoí."

"Dr. Franz-Odendaal has a long and successful career ahead of her. She is a terrific role model for any student interested in pursuing an academic career in the sciences. It is critical to MSVU that women scientists are available as mentors," states Kathryn E. Laurin, MSVU President and Vice-Chancellor.

Dr. Franz-Odendaal completed undergraduate and masterís degrees in developmental biology at the University of Cape Town, as well as her doctorate in paleontology. She immigrated to Canada from South Africa with her husband in 2003 and took up a post-doctoral fellowship with Dr. Brian Hall at Dalhousie University.

"My broad interest is in comparative vertebrate development and evolution," says Dr. Franz-Odendaal. "As a developmental biologist, I am interested in how the head and skeleton of vertebrates have changed over the course of evolution and how the eye contributes to shaping this skeleton. I compare these structures as well as the processes that contribute to their development and morphology (shape) in a number of different vertebrates, primarily birds and fish. I also investigate fossil organisms, in particular early land animals and bony fish, and attempt to infer developmental processes that took place millions of years ago."

Understanding the development of eyes and skeletons and how underlying developmental processes have changed over time contributes to our knowledge of the evolutionary process and how and why certain developments came to be.

Dr. Franz-Odendaal will be teaching Developmental Biology to MSVU students in January 2007 but, as a UFA holder, will devote the majority of her time to research and training both undergraduate and graduate students.

The NSERC Faculty Awards were created by the Canadian government to increase the representation of women and Aboriginal peoples in science faculty appointments. Only 25 awards are available each year. A UFA award provides salary support of $40,000 annually for up to five years. In addition to the UFA, Dr. Franz-Odendaal also won NSERC Discovery and Research Tools and Instruments grants in support of her research laboratory and program. She will be working on her research and with MSVUís science students and faculty colleagues.

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Anne Stephaniuk
MSVU Public Affairs
Tel: (902) 457-6439
Cell: (902) 441-0505



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