Maxwell Shafer

Assistant Professor


St. George (downtown)

CSB Appointment


Research Areas

Animal Biology, Bioinformatics / Computational Biology, Evolutionary Biology, Genetics / Genomics, Neurobiology


Post-doc Harvard/University of Basel, 2023
Ph.D McGill University, 2016
MSc University of Western Ontario, 2011
HBSc University of Western Ontario, 2009

Graduate Programs

Cell and Systems Biology, Biochemistry

Research Description

Many of the biological mechanisms that regulate the circadian phase, duration, and structure of sleep are conserved across vertebrates. Given this extensive conservation, it is remarkable that sleep patterns display widespread variation both across and within species. Animals can have different chronotypes (‘early-birds’ and ‘night-owls’) or spend variable amounts of time asleep (from as little as 2hrs to 18hrs a day). Species can shift the phase of their circadian activity (nocturnal or diurnal), restrict activity to specific periods of the day (dawn or dusk), or lose rhythmicity entirely. However, we do not know the genes responsible for shifts in circadian activity or sleep structure, or comprehend the evolutionary causes or consequences for such changes. In our group we use a combination of bioinformatic and computational genomic comparisons across species, ancestral reconstructions of sleep across hundreds of millions of years of evolution, and behavioural, neurobiological, and molecular comparisons between focal species (diurnal and nocturnal species of fish).

Contact Information

Office: RW 611A
Lab: RW 612

Mailing Address

25 Harbord Street,
Toronto, Ontario,
M5S 3G5

Visit lab’s website

Recent News

Professor Maxwell Shafer reveals behavioural changes across extinctions

Prof Maxwell Shafer studies the ways sleep behaviour evolves, including shifts from nocturnal to diurnal activity.His lab records the activity of…

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New appointments show that CSB is building and broadening

CSB is building on excellence and broadening our research thanks to two recent appointment by the University of Toronto. Congratulations, Professor…

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Gene family evolution underlies cell-type diversification in the hypothalamus of teleosts

Shafer MER, Sawh AN, Schier AF
2021, Nature Ecology & Evolution, 10.1038/s41559-021-01580-3

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Cross-Species Analysis of Single-Cell Transcriptomic Data

Shafer MER
2019, Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, 10.3389/fcell.2019.00175

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