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Fellows Directory

Derek Denton

Derek Denton

Professor Derek Denton AC FRS


Elected: 1999


Derek Denton was a biochemist who studied the importance of salt in populations of wild animals. By researching how the renal and endocrine systems function to maintain adequate concentrations of electrolytes, salts and minerals essential to health in all mammals, his work transformed into an exploration of the nature of consciousness in animals.

Sodium ions - typically obtained from salt - help to regulate the transmission of nerve impulses, heart activity and certain metabolic functions in the body. Correspondingly, most animals instinctively lick salt to maintain a healthy balance of nutrients. Through his research, Derek was able to demonstrate the effects of salt deprivation on ruminants and how the availability of salt licks may even influence their evolution in certain environments.

Derek's work led to the hypothesis that primordial emotions, such as thirst, hunger and pain, are potential precursors to consciousness in animals. In 2006, he published, The Primordial Emotions: The Dawning of Consciousness, in which he proposesd and discussed this idea.

Professor Derek Denton AC FRS died on 18 November 2022.

Interest and expertise

Subject groups

  • Anatomy, physiology and neurosciences
    • Animal (especially mammalian) and human physiology and anatomy (non-clinical), Behavioural neuroscience
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