Professor Stephen Simpson is the Charles Perkins Centre's Academic Director and is leading the development of its research strategy.
At first glance it seems unlikely a world expert in locusts would have much to say about obesity, overeating and aging. In fact, Professor Simpson’s meticulous research into this swarming insect may just hold some of the keys to solving the world’s obesity crisis.
One of Simpson’s crucial insights is that locusts – as well as other animals, including humans – have a fundamental appetite to eat a relatively stable, set amount of protein. Locusts – and humans – will keep on eating until they have satisfied this appetite.
In the modern world, where high-fat and high-carbohydrate food abounds, this mechanism, called the protein leverage effect, simply means that many of us over eat. We work our way through too much fatty and starchy foods to get to the proteins our bodies really want.
Simpson’s work demonstrates protein has both the power to drive obesity and also to ameliorate it. His research has also begun unravelling the complex interplay of genes, environments and evolutionary processes in predisposing certain individuals to obesity.
As well as leading the Charles Perkins Centre, he is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow at the University of Sydney and a scientific adviser to Obesity Australia. His current research projects include the most extensive study to date into whether calories or nutrient balance is responsible for ageing and longevity.
Stephen Simpson on the new centre
“Medical and lifestyle interventions will only succeed when we work with, not against, human biology and psychology, and when we take account of the economic, political, environmental, cultural, historical and evolutionary context.
“Tackling complex problems such as obesity and metabolic diseases requires many disciplines to work together. Solutions must be based upon a deep understanding of the biology of disease and its historical and evolutionary context.
“As an institution-wide initiative at a leading research university, the University of Sydney’s new centre will provide exactly such an environment – one where new perspectives can yield paradigm shifts in understanding and provide novel solutions.
“Where else could a locust biologist contribute to solving the world’s obesity crisis?”