The Nature of Nutrition: A Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity

The Nature of Nutrition: A Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity

The Nature of Nutrition: A Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity

The Nature of Nutrition: A Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity

Synopsis

Nutrition has long been considered more the domain of medicine and agriculture than of the biological sciences, yet it touches and shapes all aspects of the natural world. The need for nutrients determines whether wild animals thrive, how populations evolve and decline, and how ecological communities are structured. The Nature of Nutrition is the first book to address nutrition's enormously complex role in biology, both at the level of individual organisms and in their broader ecological interactions.


Stephen Simpson and David Raubenheimer provide a comprehensive theoretical approach to the analysis of nutrition--the Geometric Framework. They show how it can help us to understand the links between nutrition and the biology of individual animals, including the physiological mechanisms that determine the nutritional interactions of the animal with its environment, and the consequences of these interactions in terms of health, immune responses, and lifespan. Simpson and Raubenheimer explain how these effects translate into the collective behavior of groups and societies, and in turn influence food webs and the structure of ecosystems. Then they demonstrate how the Geometric Framework can be used to tackle issues in applied nutrition, such as the problem of optimizing diets for livestock and endangered species, and how it can also help to address the epidemic of human obesity and metabolic disease


Drawing on a wealth of examples from slime molds to humans, The Nature of Nutrition has important applications in ecology, evolution, and physiology, and offers promising solutions for human health, conservation, and agriculture.

Excerpt

Charles Darwin DARWIN (1859) famously ended his revolutionary book The Origin of Species with a paragraph that opened:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many
plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with vari
ous insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp
earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so dif
ferent from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a
manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.

Darwin demonstrated in his book that a few biological facts—what he refers to as [laws]—combine to provide an elegantly simple natural mechanism that can explain the origin of the diverse and elaborately constructed plants and animals in his [entangled bank.] The facts are reproduction with inheritance, variability, and competition for resources; the mechanism is natural selection.

The theory of natural selection provided a framework that encompassed all of biology. But Darwin was well aware that within this framework there were daunting webs of entangled complexity that remained to be unraveled. The [elaborately constructed] organisms—the meshwork of interactions between molecules, organelles, tissues, and organs that furnished Darwin with clear evidence of adaptation to the environment— remained poorly understood, as did the ecological interactions through which these organisms were [dependent on each other in so complex a manner.]

Much of biology over the past 150 years has been focused on unraveling this complexity. Armed with progressively more powerful technologies, and sophisticated numerical and conceptual tools, functional biologists, ecologists, and applied biologists have worked away at the task, sometimes with incremental gains, sometimes with transformational advances. Darwin would be astounded by the progress that has been made.

But an important opportunity has been neglected: the potential offered by following the connections provided by nutrition. Nutrition . . .

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