Published: Jan. 26, 2017

Richard Johnson, MD

Richard Johnson, MD

On Friday, Jan. 27, the Distinguished Lecture Series will feature Richard Johnson, MD. The lecture, titled "Climate Change and the Evolution of Humans," discusses a mutation in uric acid metabolism that likely occurred in Europe as a survival advantage for apes living there.

The mutation reportedly enhanced the ability of the apes to store fat and survive during the period of progressive starvation. This same mutation can be shown to markedly amplify the effect of fructose to increase fat stores. 

While this was a survival advantage for early apes, with the introduction of table sugar (fructose/glucose), the mutation markedly enhanced humans' ability to become fat and can be shown to have a role in the current diabetes and obesity epidemic. 

Johnson argues this case example shows how climate change has increased human risk for obesity, diabetes and kidney disease today; how it is being compounded by ongoing increases in temperature and how, equipped with this knowledge, humans can directly intervene to not only help the species but other species whose survival is being challenged by changes in the environment.

Johnson is the Tomas Berl professor of medicine and department head of the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus since 2008.

If you go

Who: Richard Johnson, MD
What: "Climate Change and the Evolution of Humans"
When: Friday, Jan. 27, 4 p.m.
Where: CIRES Auditorium, room 338

He is a highly-cited scientist who has lectured in over 40 countries, has authored two books (The Sugar Fix, 2008, and the The Fat Switch, 2012) and whose research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health. Johnson's primary research interest has been on mechanisms causing kidney disease, but he also has performed research on mechanisms causing obesity, diabetes and heart disease. He has special interest in the potential role of sugar (especially fructose) and its byproduct uric acid in driving metabolic and kidney disorders.

Most recently his work has shifted to how animals survive climate change and the potential role of heat stress and dehydration as a mechanism to cause chronic kidney disease. Johnson also has an active clinical practice and enjoys patient care.

The Distinguished Lecture Series, presented by the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), is designed to bring outstanding scientists who take imaginative positions on environmental issues and can establish enduring connections after their departure.