October 27, 2011



Hamilton industrialist’s legacy funds researcher’s quest for the genetic roots of social behaviour



Hamilton, Ont. October 27, 2011The drive to socialize comes from deep within, and a McMaster researcher is now armed with the resources to search for the common genetic code that tells creatures of all kinds to get together.


Constance O’Connor is the recipient of the 2011 E.B. Eastburn Postdoctoral Fellowship, which provides $80,000 over the course of two years to fund her work studying the genetic makeup of cichlids, a fascinating and diverse group of fishes whose social behaviour may yield a common denominator among species.


The Eastburn Fellowship, considered one of Canada’s most prestigious research fellowships, is administered by the Hamilton Community Foundation, and is the legacy of Hamilton industrialist Eugene B. Eastburn, who was president of National Hosiery Mills in Hamilton and served as vice-president of the foundation.


Eastburn died in 1962, and the fellowship is an expression of his desire to enable young scientists to pursue full-time studies and scientific research. To date, the fellowship has funded 32 fellowships in physics, chemistry, mathematics, medical sciences, biology, geology and zoology.


This year, the fellowship has become exclusive to McMaster researchers, a fact that McMaster and the Hamilton Community Foundation are celebrating with the announcement of this year’s winner.


“Strengthening the partnership between these two institutions brings together the best of both for the benefit of all,” says Hamilton Community Foundation president and CEO Terry Cooke. “Eugene Eastburn’s thoughtful investment in scientific research is continuing to yield rich rewards half a century later.”


“Our postdoctoral fellows are not only members of the McMaster community, but members of the Hamilton community as well,” says Allison Sekuler, associate vice-president and dean of graduate studies at McMaster. “This partnership with the Hamilton Community Foundation greatly enhances our ability to attract the best researchers to Hamilton, where they contribute to both the university and the city.”


O’Connor is a prolific researcher whose work crosses disciplinary boundaries, and her project with the cichlids is expected to touch on biology, psychology, chemistry, health science and neuroscience. She will be conducting her research in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, working with Professor Sigal Balshine.


“I believe that maintaining broad skill sets and many active collaborations will provide access to the most appropriate tools and models for answering important biological questions,” O’Connor says.


O’Connor is planning to compare hundreds of genes believed to be related to the drive to socialize among species of cichlids that exhibit a range of social behaviours. The goal is to determine whether there is a common “signature of sociality” across species.


The cichlids that are the focus of this research are native to Lake Tanganyika in east Africa. Because they exhibit a rich diversity of social systems, they are frequently used for the scientific study of group behaviour.



McMaster University, one of four Canadian universities listed among the Top 100 universities in the world, is renowned for its innovation in both learning and discovery. It has a student population of 23,000, and more than 150,000 alumni in 128 countries.


Hamilton Community Foundation was founded in 1954 and is one of the country’s largest community foundations. Its mission is to strengthen Hamilton’s quality of life through philanthropy. Since it was founded, HCF has granted close to $65 million to charitable organizations and initiatives across all sectors: arts, environment, health, human services, education and recreation.




For more information, please contact:


Wade Hemsworth

Public Relations Manager                                                             

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27988



Michelle Donovan

Public Relations Manager

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 22869