Brain Evolution: How, Why and When?
Despite decades of research on brain anatomy and function, scientists still understand remarkably little about how the brain evolves, why its anatomy varies from species to species, and when in the past major changes occurred. These are some of the questions Dr. Andrew Iwaniuk, Canada Research Chair in Comparative Neuroanatomy, aims to answer.
Many theories have been proposed to answer these questions, but most have been based on a small number of species—so it’s not clear whether findings can be applied to other animals. Using digital imaging and the largest animal brain collection in Canada, Iwaniuk and his research team are testing whether these theories can reliably explain how and why brains vary from one species to the next.
In addition, Iwaniuk is developing new ways of analyzing anatomical brain differences, and new resources to enable other researchers to better understand brain anatomy.
Iwaniuk’s research will also identify when major brain changes have occurred in evolution. For example, did changes in birds’ brains enable them to fly? By collaborating with other labs, he is also examining the brains of extinct species, such as dinosaurs. This research provides valuable information on how the brain has evolved, as well as insights into species’ behaviours.
By establishing how the brain evolves, what changes have occurred over time, and why these changes were necessary, Iwaniuk’s research is playing a key role in our modern understanding of brain function.