How locust ears can help us understand hearing loss

Dr Ben Warren, from our Department of Neuroscience, Psychology & Behaviour, has been awarded the prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellowship to understand the science behind how ears work and shed light on why hearing loss occurs in animals. 

Ben aims to understand how sound gets converted into electrical signals which animals hear. 

To do this, he will use a rather odd beast to understand hearing in animals: the desert locust, which has ears either side of its abdomen.

Ben said: “A key advantage of the desert locust is that it has accessible auditory nerve cells that allows their electrical signals to be recorded in response to sound – something unique to the locust ear preparation.

“This will be exploited to identify the protein that converts sound into electrical signals; this sound-transducing protein is considered the ‘holy grail’ by many in the auditory neuroscience field.” 

To complement this research, Ben will also be developing opportunities for NC3R funding to use the locust ear as an animal model to understand age-related and noise-induced hearing loss – from which both humans and locusts suffer.

In order to win this substantial Fellowship Dr Warren relied heavily on the people and support structures in the Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour and, more broadly, across the University of Leicester. 

Along with submitting a written research proposal Ben had to convince a panel of experts at the Royal Society headquarters just off Pall Mall that his ideas had merit. 

Ben said: “Suited-and-booted in my brother’s one-size-too-large-suit, I sat in front of 16 interviewers and attempted to sell them the dream of using the desert locust to understand how we hear.”

Ben will add to the momentum of young and aspiring Early Career Researchers within the College of Life Sciences at Leicester which has benefited from the newly-formed Doctoral College and strategic Wellcome Trust funding aimed to support ambitious young scientists.