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Marla Sokolowski - University of Toronto. Toronto, ON, CA

Marla Sokolowski

University Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology | University of Toronto

Toronto, ON, CANADA

Sokolowski's work is esteemed worldwide as a clear, integrative paragon of the manner in which genes can interact with the environment.





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Marla Sokolowski: The Biology of Childhood Hardship Part 7. OBI/CIFAR Public Lecture on Autism, Presented by Autism Speaks




Marla B. Sokolowski's innovative work is esteemed worldwide as a clear, integrative mechanistic paragon of the manner in which genes can interact with the environment, thus impacting behaviour. She has trail-blazed the development of a branch of Behaviour Genetics that addresses the genetic and molecular bases of natural individual differences in behaviour and is best known for her discovery of the foraging gene. She has published well over 135 publications and given close to 200 invited lectures.

Professor Sokolowski is an award winning teacher and highly accomplished lecturer. She has supervised over 20 postdoctoral fellows and 35 graduate students with many of her trainees ascending to prestigious national and international academic positions. She has received Distinguished Visiting Professorships in the US and Europe where she contributes regularly to graduate education.

Professor Sokolowski became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1998 for her pioneering work in the field of Behavioural Genetics and holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Genetics and Behavioural Neurology since 2001. In 2004 she became a Fellow of Massey College and in 2007 she received the Genetics Society of Canada’s Award of Excellence. She co-directs the Child and Brain Development Programme of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research where she is the Weston Fellow. She was the Director of the Life Sciences Division of the Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada from 2009-2012. She was named a University Professor at University of Toronto in 2010 and was the Academic Director of the Fraser Mustard Institute for Human Development at University of Toronto from 2012 to 2014. In 2013 she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Industry Expertise (2)



Areas of Expertise (7)


Molecular Biology

Scientific Writing

Higher Education

Public Speaking

Data Analysis


Accomplishments (4)

Canada Research Chair in Genetics and Behavioural Neurology (professional)


Canada Research Chairs Program

The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (personal)


To honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians

University Professor (professional)


University of Toronto

Award of Excellence (professional)


Genetics Society of Canada

Education (2)

University of Toronto: Ph.D., Behavioural Genetics 1981

University of Toronto: B.S., Zoology 1977

Affiliations (4)

  • Co-Director Canadian Institute for Advanced Research – Child & Brain Development Programme
  • Weston Fellow Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
  • Fellow Royal Society of Canada
  • Senior Fellow Massey College

Media Appearances (5)

How childhood experience gets under our skin

The Globe and Mail  


We all have memories of important things that happened to us as children – good and bad experiences that we look back on as formative. What we’re learning is that these early influences can be even more profound than we used to think. Childhood experiences affect the course of our entire lives, from our health to our success to our happiness, and even to how long we’ll live.

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How poverty influences a child's brain development

The Globe and Mail  


“The genes, in a sense, are listening to the environment,” says Marla Sokolowski, who specializes in genetics and behavioural neurology at the University of Toronto ...

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The genes that built a home

National Geographic  online


“It’s great work. There are very few other examples of genes for naturally occurring variation in behaviour,” says Marla Sokolowski, who has found a few in fruit flies ...

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Why the first 2,000 days of a child's life are the most important

The Globe and Mail  


We spoke to Lye and the institute’s academic director, geneticist Marla Sokolowski ...

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Social Interactions Can Alter Gene Expression In Brain, And Vice Versa

Science Daily  online


One such gene, called for (for foraging), was originally discovered in fruit flies by Marla Sokolowski at the University of Toronto ...

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Articles (5)

Genetic Differential Susceptibility to Socioeconomic Status and Childhood Obesogenic Behavior

JAMA Pediatrics

2016 Genes may work by modulating the way individuals respond to environmental variation, and these discrete and differential genes vs environmental interactions may not be readily captured in simple association studies.

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The interplay of birth weight, dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4), and early maternal care in the prediction of disorganized attachment at 36 months of age

Development and Psychopathology

2015 Disorganized attachment is an important early risk factor for socioemotional problems throughout childhood and into adulthood. Prevailing models of the etiology of disorganized attachment emphasize the role of highly dysfunctional parenting, to the exclusion of complex models examining the interplay of child and parental factors.

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Genetic and Developmental Origins of Food Preferences and Obesity Risk: The Role of Dopamine

Hormones, Intrauterine Health and Programming

2014 Fetal growth and development associates with poor lifetime health outcomes. Despite the strength of the epidemiological evidence, there is little research that describes the functional pathways linking fetal development to brain-based disorders and metabolic health.

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The biology of social adversity

New Scientist

2013 Bad experiences in childhood may scar us – and our descendants – for life. Are we closing in on the biology behind the process?

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Toward a new biology of social adversity

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

2012 With the advent of industrialization, the forcible employment of children, and the 19th century child labor laws that followed, a broad recognition emerged that even childhood (or perhaps especially childhood) can be “broken” by the adversities of life in a harshly exploitative society.

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