Gary Schwartz is interested in the evolutionary history of primate and human growth and development as evidenced from developing tooth tissues. Teeth grow in an incremental manner, like trees and shells, preserving a record of their growth in the form of daily lines. The rate at which teeth grow is very closely linked to all kinds of important biological variables such as brain size, gestation length, longevity, etc. Recently, Professor Schwartz has been studying how using information on the time and timing of dental development can help us understand the evolutionary history of the extended growth period so unique to modern humans. Current work using the incremental structures in teeth is also addressing fundamental questions related to the developmental bases of canine sexual dimorphism during primate evolution and the role dental development plays in life history evolution.
His work bridges the gap between comparative anatomy/morphology and evolutionary developmental biology. In conjunction with new discoveries in genetics and developmental biology, the type of information produced in his lab provides an exciting way of exploring the mechanisms that underlie morphological change during evolution. The techniques routinely used in his lab involve the preparation of histological thin sections of modern and fossil teeth for transmitted and polarized light microscopy. Additionally, scanning electron microscopy and computed tomography are used to examine non-invasively the internal structures of fossil teeth.
In addition to labwork, Professor Schwartz goes to the field to collect original fossil hominid material.