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Biologist to speak on lessons from locusts

Tuesday, April 7, 2009, 4:30 p.m. 101 Friend Center

Steve Simpson, a biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, will give a talk on "Lessons From Locusts: From Social Behavior to Human Obesity" at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 7, in 101 Friend Center.

Simpson's dual research interests -- nutrition and locust swarming -- have led to fundamental insights into the dietary causes of the human obesity epidemic, and have linked genetic, brain and bodily behaviors in individual insects to mass migration. Over the course of his career, he has made pioneering contributions to the fields of nutritional physiology, ecology and behavior.

Simpson has studied transformation or phase change of locusts, when the insects go from being shy, mutually aversive insects to a swarming mob. Those investigations have led Simpson and colleagues to discover some of the mechanisms that lead to such swarming, including elevated levels of the chemical serotonin in locust brains.

The eating habits of locusts, he has found, may help explain why humans are getting fatter. Locusts eat until they take in enough protein, he has found. He has suggested that humans might be doing the same, fueling the obesity epidemic. Because food has become increasingly fat and carbohydrate rich, the amount of food needed to get a protein "fix" has increased, Simpson reasons.

After earning his Ph.D. at the University of London, Simpson spent most of his career at Oxford University, where he was a professor in the Department of Zoology as well as curator of the University Museum of Natural History. In 2005, he became an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney.

Simpson was elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2007. In 2008, he was awarded the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for excellence in scientific research.

The event is part of the Princeton Frontiers of Biology Lecture Series and is sponsored by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Princeton University Press.

Simpson also will deliver a talk titled "The Geometry of Nutrition: From Cannibals to Human Obesity" at 12:30 p.m., Thursday, April 9, in 10 Guyot Hall. The lecture is sponsored by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

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