Posted on February 5, 2010 by Tia Lalani

Nhial Tiitmamer talks to Dr. Tomislav Terzin about his outstanding collection of invertebrates.

By Nhial Tiitmamer –

Dr. Tomislav Terzin is fascinated by the beautiful patterns found in butterflies, moths and seashells. His passion developed when he was growing up in the small Serbian city of Sombor. Civil war ruined research opportunities in his native Serbia and led him to look for opportunities elsewhere. Canada offered him a better chance to pursue his dream: he was accepted into an insect development program at the University of Western Ontario, where he obtained both his Master’s and Ph.D. in 2003 and 2007 respectively.

After his Ph.D., Terzin joined Guelph University’s Biodiversity Institute, where he worked as a post-doctoral fellow on DNA barcoding in Professor Paul Hebert’s laboratory. He joined the University of Alberta’s Augustana Faculty last summer to take his new position as assistant professor of developmental biology. Not only has he joined Augustana with an incredible wealth of experience, he has also come with thousands of seashells, as well as hundreds of moths and butterflies, in his private collection. Dr. Terzin needs the University of Alberta’s research-intensive environment to transform his collection into a world-class research endeavour for both scholarly and public benefits.

Terzin would like to offer his research collections for public exhibition in Camrose, a city which resembles his beloved home town of Sombor. The displays could be done at Augustana library and would especially benefit school kids in Camrose. For him, the rainforest is very far away, but when people see these exhibitions of the beauty of biodiversity, they will develop an appreciation for – and can respond positively to – a call for the protection of natural biodiversity.

“When you talk to people,” says Terzin, “many of them consider biology as boring. Textbooks may be boring, but biology in real life is not boring.” Wing patterns are not only interesting for science; they are also of great interest to the general public. He is interested in how new wing patterns are formed during the evolution of new insect species. In his research, he wants to connect the process of speciation – the formation of new insect species – and use it as a tool for evolutionary record. According to Terzin, “people in biology, especially in taxonomy, used molecular [parts] to determine further genetic relations between species.” Similarly, the wing patterns could be used to assess evolutionary data to determine how new species are formed.

Terzin says the wing patterns are not only scientifically important: they are also of artistic significance. Through this perspective, he wants to “bridge the gap between science and art.” His research will be used across several other disciplines such as psychology, design and visual arts. For example, researchers in psychology can collaborate with him to study the way people perceive nature when they view beautiful insects like butterflies.

Since joining Augustana, Terzin has taught genetics, developmental biology, and cell biology. He has proposed to teach a course in evolution of development.
Terzin is married with two children, who will call Camrose home as he pursues his passion here at Augustana with butterflies, moths and seashells.

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