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CAS Integrative Physiology Scientist Elected to the Royal Society

May 09, 2018     Email"> PrintText Size

Professor John Speakman (Image by Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology)

John Speakman, CAS “Thousand Talent Program” professor of the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, the UK’s National Academy, it was announced today (Wednesday May 9th 2018). 

Founded in 1663, The Royal Society is the oldest National Science Academy in the world and currently includes 1600 of the world’s most eminent scientists. The Royal Society announces new fellows each year who have made significant lifetime contributions in science, engineering and technology.  

New fellows are elected on the basis of their scientific achievements by a committee of existing fellows of the society. Over the last 350 years, 8000 scientists have ever been elected to the Fellowship, including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. 

Other than Speakman, four other CAS scientists have ever been elected  to the Royal Society, including former CAS President ZHOU Guangzhao, CAS President BAI Chunli, Professor CHEN Zhu, and Professor LI Jiayang.

Professor Speakman said that it was a special honour to be elected to the Royal society and he was extremely grateful to his peers and nominators for recognizing his work. “It has been lots of hard work,” he said, “but I have also been very lucky to have had several extremely good mentors during my career. The ability to come to work in China and focus all my time into research has been extremely important. 

Focus on Energy Balance 

Professor Speakman’s work concerns energy balance in animals and humans and its many consequences. He has published over 500 peer reviewed scientific papers and four books. Speakman explained that “Energy use is a fundamental aspect of everything that animals do, and is consequently an important unifying currency by which we can understand many aspects of animal behavior and physiology”. In the 1980s and 1990s Speakman was instrumental in expanding the use and development of a method for quantifying the amount of energy that animal and humans expend in their daily lives. 

He has applied this method in collaboration with many researchers around the world to measure the energy requirements of a diversity of animals including African wild dogs, cheetah, mole rats and lemurs. He has worked in China with several research groups in CAS to measure energy demands of the giant panda (with WEI Fuwen), endangered langurs (with HUANG Chengming), genetically modified pigs (with JIN Wanzhu and ZHAO Jianguo) and the Tibetan Plateau pika (with WANG Dehua and ZHANG Yanmin). This work in comparative biology has led to fundamental insights in our understanding of what factors limit animal performance: in particular the role played by the ability to dissipate body heat. 

He has also been instrumental in advancing our understanding of the evolutionary background to the obesity epidemic and the role of energy balance in the process of ageing – including studies into the fundamental mechanisms underpinning the actions of calorie restriction. 

In CAS his focus has been the role of different macronutrients and physical activity in driving energy imbalance. This work has included studies of mice and humans. With funding from the Strategic Priority Research Program B (Evolution-Genotype-Phenotype-systems biology: eGPS), he has shown that only dietary fat causes loss of body weight regulation. Controversially, his work has suggested that fast food restaurants are not an important cause of the obesity epidemic. 

Numerous Awards 

Professor Speakman has received many previous awards and fellowships for his research, including:

·The Zoological Society of London Scientific medal (1995)
·A Royal Society-Leverhulme research fellowship (1999)
·The Saltire Society Scottish Science medal (2003)
·Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2004)
·Kwarazimi International festival prizewinner (2005)
·William Dick memorial lecture (2005)
·Lloyds TSB Research Fellowship (2007)
·Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (2008)
·Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (2009)
·Clive McKay endowment lecture Cornell University (2011)
·Fellow of Academia Europeae (2011)
·Irving-Scholander prize lecture, Fairbanks University, Alaska (2014)
·Chinese Academy of Sciences International Co-operation medal (2015)
·Royal Society Wolfson merit award (2016)
·Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2017)
·Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society (2017)

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(Editor: CHEN Na)

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