Spencer Barrett: biography

Spencer C.H. Barrett was born in England and received his BSc in horticultural botany from the University of Reading in 1971. He worked as a weed biologist in Swaziland for the Commonwealth Development Corporation before moving to the University of California at Berkeley, where he obtained his PhD from the Botany Department in 1977. In the same year, he was appointed as a faculty member at the University of Toronto where he is now University Professor and for 14 years was Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Genetics in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, where he currently leads an internationally renowned research group in plant evolutionary biology. 

Professor Barrett is one of the world’s leading authorities on the reproductive biology, genetics and evolution of flowering plants. His primary areas of research are the mechanisms responsible for evolutionary transitions in plant reproductive systems and the evolution and function of floral design. Professor Barrett’s laboratory in Toronto applies a wide range of approaches to solving problems in plant evolution from ‘muddy boots’ field ecology to theoretical models and genomics. He travels widely and has many international collaborations, including current research projects in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, New Zealand and South Africa. His many scientific contributions have rejuvenated plant reproductive biology making it one of the most active areas within ecology and evolutionary biology. In addition to his studies on plant reproduction, Professor Barrett is also an internationally recognized expert on the ecology and genetics of plant invasions and the environmental consequences of genetically modified crops.

Professor Barrett has received numerous awards in recognition of his pre-eminence as both an evolutionary biologist and plant scientist. He is an NSERC EWR Steacie Memorial Fellowship winner (1988) and a recipient of the highest awards given by the Botanical Society of America (Merit Award – 2003) and the Canadian Botanical Association (Lawson Medal – 2006). He was the inaugural winner of the Premier’s Discovery Award in Life Science and Medicine (2007) awarded by the Government of Ontario for his leadership role in building a culture of research and innovation in the Province of Ontario. In 2008 he received the prestigious Sewall Wright Award given by the American Society of Naturalists for a senior investigator who has made major contributions to the conceptual unification of the biological sciences. In 2015 he was awarded the Flavelle Medal by the Royal Society of Canada for outstanding contributions to the biological sciences. Professor Barrett is a fellow of Royal Society of Canada (1998) and the Royal Society of London (2004) and in 2009 he was elected Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Science. He has been appointed Adjunct Professor at Washington State University, Pullman and a visiting Guest Professor at Wuhan University, China and in 2010 was made Extraordinary Professor at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Professor Barrett has been President of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution and Vice President (N. America) of the Society for the Study of Evolution and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, the flagship biological journal of the Royal Society of London with ~3000 submissions per year and an editorial board over a 100 scientists. 

During his tenure at the University of Toronto, Professor Barrett has not only excelled as a scholar but also as an outstanding teacher, mentor, and communicator of science. He has taught first-year biology throughout his career and for the past 15 years has been the team leader of the largest first-year biology class in Canada with ~1800 students. For these contributions he received an Outstanding Teaching Award (1992) from the Faculty of Arts and Science, and the Northrop Frye Award (1999) for linking teaching and research in the classroom.

Published Aug. 27, 2018 12:13 PM - Last modified Aug. 27, 2018 12:13 PM