Sydney Science Forum: Law of the Locust
10 September 2010
Hear a tale of cannibals, ageing and human obesity from Professor Steve Simpson, NSW Scientist of the Year 2009, at his Sydney Science Forum public talk on Wednesday, 15 September 2010.
Locust plagues are one of the most infamous insect scourges, affecting the lives of one in 10 people on the planet. But they have also provided important new clues into the causes of human obesity, how we age, and the complex behaviour of crowds.
In this free public talk, part of the Sydney Science Forum series, Professor Steve Simpson from the School of Biological Sciences, takes us on a strange journey that begins in the midst of a locust swarm and ends with the human obesity epidemic.
Along the way, you will see what happens when you tickle a locust's leg with a paintbrush, how recreational drugs turn shy solitary locusts into swarming party animals, how robotic helicopters are being used to track swarms, the sinister role played by cannibalism in locust swarms, and how a powerful appetite for protein can explain not only locust mass marching but also human obesity and ageing.
Professor Steve Simpson started his research with the problem of why locusts swarm, and in answering this question has revolutionised thinking on important topics, such as managing human nutrition and obesity, ageing, and how ecosystems function.
Hunger for protein is the reason locusts swarm and the reason the obese continue to over eat, according to Professor Simpson's 'protein leverage' hypothesis. He found that humans, like locusts and other animals, strive to defend protein intake at the expense of other nutrients. The hypothesis therefore makes our penchant for consuming excess fats and carbohydrates immediately comprehensible - we are endeavouring to reach our protein target in a world full of highly palatable, low protein foods. It provides a fundamental, evolutionarily programmed basis for explaining the human tendency to gain weight in our modern world and as we age.
Professor Simpson's novel research, which has seen him working across many disciplines and with researchers across the world, has created new and general biological paradigms that inform our thinking on nutrition, obesity, gerontology, aquaculture, livestock feed, conservation biology and, of course, locust control.
From locusts to human obesity, to ageing to a new paradigm for the study of nutritional ecology, is a strange journey, which provides a compelling example of the power of pure scientific discovery.
For his work, Simpson has won numerous awards and honours including being named NSW Scientist of the Year 2009, winning the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research 2008, and being elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2007.
What: Sydney Science Forum presents Law of the Locust
When: 5.45 to 6.45pm, Wednesday 15 September
Where: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, Camperdown Campus
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