Brian Hall Zoology, Animals, Physiology, Metabolism

Unlocked secrets of how the embryos of fish, frogs and chicks form from a simple egg, and how this process changes over evolution.

The Story

Brian Hall is a leader in the growing field of evolutionary developmental biology, or how body structures change through evolution. He has worked primarily on the development of the skeleton, especially the bones of the face. His work has led to greater understanding of why bone loss occurs when activity is reduced, and what goes awry during the development of facial birth defects such as cleft palate.

Hall joined the faculty of Dalhousie University as an Assistant Professor in 1968. He rose to Full Professor of Biology in 1975 and served as Chairman of Biology from 1978 to 1985. Since 1993 he has been a Fellow of the Centre for Human Biology, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia. Between 1996 and 2001, he was Faculty of Science Killam Professor of Biology at Dalhousie, and in 2001 he was appointed George S. Campbell Professor of Biology.

Hall has focussed on the neural crest cells, that group of cells in the embryo which form in the developing nervous system, then migrate to form bones, cartilage and teeth in the head. Using fluorescent dyes, he has tracked the cellular interactions which occur to "switch on" different cell types, pioneering work in the field of cellular differentiation. His groundbreaking work has also demonstrated that many structures which were once considered to be homologous (arising out of a common ancestral structure) do in fact arise from different developmental processes.

In addition to his teaching duties, Dr. Hall has written over 250 scientific articles for peer-reviewed journals as well as more than 16 books (with five more in press or preparation). His seminal textbook Evolutionary Developmental Biology (2nd edition, 1998) was released in paperback in 1999 and has been translated into Japanese. Other important works include The Neural Crest in Development and Evolution (1999) and most recently Homology: The Hierarchical Basis of Comparative Biology (2000). Hall serves on many editorial boards, including those of the Journal of Craniofacial Genetics & Developmental Biology, the International Journal of Developmental Biology, and Evolution and Development. He has been Associate Editor of Molecular and Developmental Evolution since its inception in 1998.

Hall's election to The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in May, 2002 was in recognition for "pre-eminent contributions to all scholarly fields and professions." The Kawalevsky Medal, awarded for the first time in a century, was presented in 2001 to Brian Hall as one of the eight most distinguished scientists of the twentieth century in comparative zoology and evolutionary embryology. With the medal comes election as an Honorary Member of the St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists - a select Russian natural history society whose 19th century members included Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur.

Sources: Division of Evolutionary Developmental Biology Newsletter, Spring 2002; Dalhousie News, Feb 13, 2002; Centre for Craniofacial Development & Disorders; NSERC news release, October 7, 2002.

Photo: Dr. Hall's webpage.

The Person

George S. Campbell Professor of Biology
Dept. of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS
  • BSc (Zoology), U of New England, Armidale, NSW Australia, 1963
  • BSc (Hons Zoology), U of New England, 1965
  • PhD (Zoology), U of New England, 1969
  • Foreign Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2002
  • Alexander Kowalevsky Medal (St.-Petersburg Soc of Naturalists, Russia), 2001
  • International Craniofacial Biology Distinguished Scientist Award, 1996
  • Fry Medal, Canadian Soc of Zoologists, 1994
  • Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, 1985
  • Young Scientist Award (Atlantic Provinces Inter-University Committee on the Sciences), 1974
Last Updated
September 17, 2015

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