Kirstin Brink

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Research location
Life Sciences Centre
Oral Health Sciences
Joy Richman
Year PDF started

Research topic

The evolution and development of teeth

Research Description

I am a palaeontologist researching the evolution and development of dentitions in modern and extinct animals. Teeth are a key feature in the evolutionary history of vertebrates. As dentitions have been evolving for over 400 million years and fossilize very well, they are often the only glimpses we have into the diversity and ecology of extinct organisms, since tooth shape is highly correlated with diet and ecological niche. Animals occupying different roles in food webs show differences in tooth shape, tooth number, tooth attachment style, and tooth replacement patterning, the mechanisms of which are still not fully understood.

My main research questions are: 1) How do differences in tooth shape and size arise developmentally? 2) How does tooth shape and size change over evolutionary timescales? I answer these questions through analysis of fossil material and living animals, which are used as a model to understand processes that we can no longer observe in extinct animals. My current research at UBC is focused on the development of tooth shape differences and replacement patterns in leopard geckos and green anoles, uncovering the mysteries of life-long, continuous tooth replacement in these animals.

Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?

I decided to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC because of the unique learning environment provided by my supervisor, Joy Richman, in the Faculty of Dentistry. Her lab is one of the only labs in the world to study tooth development in reptiles, and I wanted to learn new molecular and developmental biology techniques. I came to UBC in the fall of 2015 with funding from a Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellowship and a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Postdoctoral Trainee award; a combination of funding that would only be possible to receive at UBC. Having funding from these two organizations was highly encouraging and emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of my research, from fossils to human health.

What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?

Take advantage of this time as a researcher to learn new techniques and methods! Plan for your future career, and learn transferable skills that will make achieving that goal a possibility. Make an effort to start collaborations that will broaden your research scope and lead to new, intriguing research projects.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your postdoctoral fellowship?

Playing with lizards!

What does receiving this award mean for your career?

Receiving a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship is an incredible honour, not only for me but everyone who has helped me get here. This award will allow me to stay at UBC for two more years to finish projects that are underway, and to start new projects that will keep me curious for the rest of my career.