Alice Fairnie

Alice L. M. Fairnie, Ph.D.

Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
University of Toronto
25 Willcocks Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5S 3B2

Office: Earth Science Building 2046


Ph.D.                       Sainsbury Laboratory (2022)
                                University of Cambridge, England, United Kingdom 

B.Sc. Hons.              Plant Sciences (2017)
                                 University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Current Position

Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto

Research Interests

I am interested in the evolution, genetics, development and ecological consequences of floral diversity, especially those traits that influence pollination and mating including: flower shape and structure, colour, sex-organ deployment and floral display. 

During my PhD at Cambridge University, I studied regulatory MYB genes patterning anthocyanin pigmentation of Hibiscus trionum (Malvaceae) petals. Using classic molecular techniques, I identified a small regulatory pathway which restricts purple pigmentation to the lower portion of H. trionum’s petals creating a bullseye pattern. I then used transgenic approaches, developed within the Moyroud group, to target these regulatoryMYBs and modify the bullseye petal pattern. To understand if natural variation in the bullseye pattern of different H. trionum variants influenced pollinator perception, I performed bee behavioural experiments to answer the question: do bumblebees perceive differences in bullseyes of different proportions? and do bumblebees prefer flowers with a larger, or smaller bullseye patterns?

In the summer of 2022, I joined the Barrett lab at the University of Toronto as a post-doctoral fellow, working in collaboration with researchers in South Africa, Germany, and the Netherlands funded by a Human Frontiers Scientific Program grant – “The biology of left-right asymmetry – linking structural determinants to ecology and evolution.” The research focused on mirror-image flowers (enantiostyly) primarily in three monocot genera (Fig. 1): Cyanella (Tecophileaceae); Heteranthera (Pontederiaceae) and Wachendorfia (Haemodoraceae).

Figure 1. Mirror-image flowers of the three monocot genera I currently study. The Cyanella and Wachendorfia pictured above are left-handed, and the Heteranthera is left-handed.

Through collaboration among our team members (Fig. 2) our primary goals are: to identify the genes controlling left- and right- handed style deflection in flowers; reveal the evolutionary relationships between selected species with contrasting enantiostylous strategies (e.g. monomorphic versus dimorphic enantiostyly); and to understand the pollination biology and  mating patterns of style morphs in natural populations of dimorphic species with different morph ratios. My research has far included field studies in the Western Cape of South Africa (August-October) in 2022 and this will continue for the next two years.    

Figure 2. The HFSP team visiting South Africa.


Fairnie, A.L.M., Yeo, M.T.S., Gatti, S., Chan, E., Travaglia, V., Walker, J.F., and Moyroud, E. 2022. Eco-Evo-Devo of petal pigmentation patterning. Essays Biochem. 66 (6): 753–768. 

Hood, A.S.C, Advento, A.D., Stone, J., Fayle, T.M., Fairnie, A.L.M., Waters, H.S., Foster, W.A., Snaddon, J.L., Ps, S., Caliman, J.-P., Naim, M. and Turner, E.C. 2020. Removing understory vegetation in oil palm agroforestry reduces ground-foraging ant abundance but not species richness. Basic and Applied Ecology, 48:26-36. 

Machin, F.Q., Beckers, M., Tian, X., Fairnie, A.L.M., Cheng T., Scheible W.R., Doerner P. 2019. Inducible reporter/driver lines for the Arabidopsis root with intrinsic reporting of activity state. Plant J. 98(1):153-164.