John Speakman

John Roger Speakman (born 1958)[1] FRS FRSE FRSB FRSA FMedSci FRSS [4] is a British biologist working at the University of Aberdeen, Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, for which he was Director from 2007 to 2011.[5] He leads the University's Energetics Research Group,[6] which is one of the world's leading groups using doubly labeled water (DLW) to investigate energy expenditure and balance in animals.[4] Since 2011, he has also been working as a '1000 talents' Professor at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing, China, where he runs the molecular energetics group.

John Speakman

John Speakman at the Royal Society admissions day in London, July 2018
John Roger Speakman

November 1958 (age 61)[1]
ResidenceUnited Kingdom
EducationLeigh Grammar School
Alma materUniversity of Stirling (PhD)
Spouse(s)Mary Speakman
ChildrenEmily Ann (b 1993), Alasdair Jack (b 1995)
AwardsRoyal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (2016)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Aberdeen
Chinese Academy of Sciences
ThesisThe energetics of foraging in wading birds (Charadrii) (1984)
Doctoral advisorDavid Bryant[3]


Speakman was educated at Leigh Grammar School, near Manchester, and then went to the University of Stirling where he was awarded a BSc in Biology and Psychology in 1980 and a PhD in 1984 for research on the energetics of foraging in wading birds.[3] He was subsequently awarded Doctor of Science (DSc) degrees by both the University of Aberdeen in 1996 and University of Stirling in 2009. in 2017 he obtained a BSc in Maths and Statistics from the Open university.

Career and research

Speakman's work focuses on the causes and consequences of variation in energy balance, and in particular the factors that limit expenditure, the genetic and environmental drivers of obesity and the energetic contribution to ageing.[4] He is an internationally recognised expert in the use of isotope methodologies to measure energy demands and has used these methods on a wide range of wild animals, model species and humans.[4]

During the mid-1980s and early 1990s, Speakman made many contributions to the development of the DLW method, culminating in the book Doubly labelled water: theory and practice,[7] published in 1997 that remains the standard reference work for applications of this methodology in humans and other animals. Since 2018 he was the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency doubly-labelled water database management committee, which manages a database of over 6000 measurements of human subjects made using the DLW method.

Speakman is well known for his work on obesity, in particular for criticising a long-established theory for obesity known as the thrifty gene hypothesis. His alternative hypothesis proposes that the modern distribution of obese phenotypes arose via the release from predation and random genetic drift: the drifty gene hypothesis.[8][9][10] This idea is controversial and has been criticised by others that support the original thrifty gene hypothesis.[11]

Speakman's group was the first to link genetic variation to differences in food consumption in humans by examining polymorphic variation in the fat mass and obesity associated FTO gene.[12]

With Aberdeen colleague Ela Krol, among others, he has published a series of over 30 papers in the Journal of Experimental Biology, which culminated in a novel hypothesis that animal energy expenditure is limited by the capacity to dissipate body heat. This idea – the "heat dissipation limit hypothesis" (HDL) was published by Speakman and Krol in the Journal of Animal Ecology in 2010.[13] The idea is claimed to have wide implications for our understanding of many aspects of ecophysiology and ecology – such as limits on range distributions, maximum possible sizes of endothermic animals e.g. dinosaurs, Bergmann’s rule, effects of climate change etc.[14] The idea is revolutionary because it shifts the fundamental locus of control over energy expenditure from extrinsic factors outside the animal (e.g. food supply, fractal supply system, uptake capacity), to intrinsic factors inside an animal (heat dissipation capacity). An independent review of studies of energy expenditure concluded that the HDL hypothesis provided a better explanation of the patterns of energy expenditure in endotherms than does the metabolic theory of ecology.[15]

Speakman serves on the board of reviewing editors at the journal Science (2011-date) and is on the editorial board of Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society (2018-date). He was Deputy Editor in Chief of Biology Open (2010-2018).

Speakman writes a monthly popular science column for the magazine ‘Newton’ (translated into Chinese by an ex-student Lina Zhang) and has also published three popular science books consisting of the compiled English versions of these articles.[16][17]

Speakman's peer reviewed publications can be found at Google Scholar,[2] Europe PubMed Central,[18] Scopus,[19] The University of Aberdeen,[20] ResearchGate,[21] and[22]

Awards and honours

In 2005 he gave the Royal Dick Vet memorial lecture during the Edinburgh Science festival, in 2011 the Clive McCay endowment lecture at Cornell University and in 2014 the Irving-Scholander Prize lecture[23] at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska. In 2016 he received a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award from the Royal Society of London.[4]

Speakman was awarded[24] the Zoological Society of London scientific medal in 1995, and the Royal Society of Edinburgh Saltire Society Scottish Science medal in 2003. In 1991 he was elected fellow of the UK Institute of Biology, later renamed the Society of Biology and latterly the Royal Society of Biology. In 2004, he was elected to the fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in 2008 to the UK Academy of Medical Sciences, and in 2009 to the Royal Society of Arts in London[24] in 2011 to the Academy of Europe (Academia Europaea), and in 2014 The Obesity Society of the USA. He was made a Bing Zhi forum Professor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Zoology in Beijing (2010)[25] and holds honorary Professorial positions at the University of Wenzhou (Zhejiang) (2014) and the University of Dali (Yunnan) (2014). He was the first non-Chinese recipient of a ‘Great wall’ professorship from the CAS-Novonordisk Foundation (2011) and in 2015 was the first Briton ever to be awarded the Chinese Academy of Sciences medal for International cooperation.[26] He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2017 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2018.[4]


  1. Anon (2005). "John Roger SPEAKMAN". London: Companies House. Archived from the original on 18 May 2018.
  2. John Speakman publications indexed by Google Scholar
  3. Speakman, Jonathan Roger (1984). The energetics of foraging in wading birds (Charadrii). (PhD thesis). University of Stirling. hdl:1893/2570. OCLC 499851672. EThOS
  4. Anon (2018). "Professor John Speakman FMedSci FRS". London: Royal Society. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the website where:
    “All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.” --Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies at the Wayback Machine (archived 2016-11-11)
  5. "John Speakman". University of Aberdeen, UK. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  6. "Energetics Research Group". University of Aberdeen, UK. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  7. Speakman, J.R. (1997). Doubly labelled water: theory and practice. London: Chapman & Hall. ISBN 0-412-63780-4.
  8. J. R. Speakman. (2008). Thrifty genes for obesity, an attractive but flawed idea, and an alternative perspective: the 'drifty gene' hypothesis. International Journal of Obesity, 32, 1611-7. doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.161
  9. Speakman, J.R. (2006). The genetics of obesity: five fundamental problems with the famine hypothesis. In G. Fantuzzi, and T. Mazzone, (Eds) Adipose tissue and adipokines in health and disease. Humana Press, New York.
  10. J. R. Speakman. (2007). A nonadaptive scenario explaining the genetic predisposition to obesity: the "predation release" hypothesis. Cell metabolism, 6, 5-12. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2007.06.004
  11. A. M. Prentice, B. J. Hennig and A. J. Fulford. (2008). Evolutionary origins of the obesity epidemic: natural selection of thrifty genes or genetic drift following predation release? International Journal of Obesity, 32, 1607-10, doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.147
  12. J. R. Speakman, K. A. Rance and A. M. Johnstone. (2008). Polymorphisms of the FTO gene are associated with variation in energy intake, but not energy expenditure. Obesity, 16, 1961-5. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.318
  13. Speakman, J.R. and Krol, E (2010) Maximal heat dissipation capacity and hyperthermia risk: neglected key factors in the ecology of endotherms Journal of Animal Ecology 79: 726-746 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2656.2010.01689.x
  14. Gremillet et a. (2012) Heat dissipation limit theory and the evolution of avian functional traits in a warming world. Functional eology 26: 1001-1006 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2435.2012.02048.x
  15. Hudson, L.N. et al (2013) The relationship between body mass and field metabolic rate among individual birds and mammals. Journal of Animal Ecology 82: 1009-2020 doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12086
  16. Speakman, J.R. (2014) Pandas – dead end or dead wrong? and eleven other short stories from the frontiers of bioscience, 2014. Create space publishing ISBN 978-1505548877
  17. Speakman, J.R. (2015) How dogs make us fall in love with them and eleven other short stories from the frontiers of bioscience 2015. Createspace publishing ISBN 978-1519681867
  18. John Speakman publications from Europe PubMed Central
  19. John Speakman publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  20. "Publications - Energetics Research Group". Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  21. Genetics, John SpeakmanInstitute of; Biology, Developmental; DSc, CAS · State Key Laboratory of Molecular Developmental Biology 70 95 · PhD. "John Speakman - PhD DSc - Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, CAS, Beijing - State Key Laboratory of Molecular Developmental Biology". ResearchGate. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  22. "John Speakman - University of Aberdeen -". Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  23. "Institute of Arctic Biology::Irving-Scholander Lecture Series". 16 September 2014. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  24. Speakman, John. "Awards & Prizes". University of Aberdeen, UK. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  25. "BingZhi Forum-Institute of Zoology Chinese Academy of Sciences". 15 March 2009. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  26. "Award for International Scientific Cooperation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences" (PDF). Retrieved 7 June 2017.

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