SSIB Living History Project:
Harry Kissileff's Reflections

When did you first develop an interest in ingestive behaviors?
I was always interested in appetite and nutrition from my youth on. I like growing vegetables and eating them, and I was always curious about the natural world and how one action led to another to produce an outcome. When I was in junior high, I created a science project, which was not really science, but it was exciting to display. It was called Pennsylvania grown cotton, and I simply grew cotton from seed and displayed the final product. Not really very scientific, but cotton was not usually grown in Pennsylvania, and the purpose of the project was to see if it could be done. Initially I wanted to be a physicist, but I found the math too challenging at the time. By the time I got to college, I had a much better idea about what science was about, at least I thought I did, until after describing some of the work I was doing in a lab, my cousin said what was my hypothesis. We were simply trying to describe the behavior of animals with hypothalamic lesions, and the approach of the lab was much more descriptive than would be acceptable today. Originally, I wanted to work on predator-prey relationships, with Robert MacArthur at the University of Pennsylvania, but he told me that Alan Epstein’s approach was more appropriate to the types of questions I was asking, such as why does the predator eat the prey in the first place?

Did you have mentors whom you emulated as role models?
John Brobeck, Alan Epstein, Phil Teitelbaum, and Eliot Stellar were my models. They were all brilliant scientists, and Alan especially was what you would describe as charismatic. I did not aspire to charisma, but I wanted an academic career, and the chance to discover something that would be useful to humanity. I did not particularly like teaching, or even presentation, but I liked collecting and analyzing data. I became fascinated with the fact that you could record eating and drinking patterns of rats with sensitive equipment, and I wondered how the nervous system controlled that behavior. I came to Alan’s laboratory, shortly after he had developed methods for feeding rats intragrastrically and training them to work to feed themselves that way. The approach was very data driven and the objective was to find a “phenomenon” and then analyze it by manipulating the influences on it. The word “hypothesis” rarely appeared. The main question was whether the central nervous system or peripheral sensations were the drivers of what was called “regulation”, i.e. the ability of the animal to maintain an intake necessary to achieve stable body weight. Later on (1965) Brobeck introduced the dual concepts of regulation, as maintenance of constancy, and control as management of rates of functioning. Eating behavior which generated rates of eating, was in service of maintaining constancies of internal variables, such as body temperature, or macronutrient (glucose, amino acids, and fat stores) homeostasis. I don’t think Brobeck thought of weight as a regulated variable though. There were too many influences on it for it to be maintained constant. These notions were driven by Stellar’s 1954 model of physiology of motivation, in which behavior outcomes were determined by the interplay of excitatory and inhibitory controls, primarily in the hypothalamus, following Brobeck’s original findings of the effects of VMH and LH lesions on eating. In the end, I did develop a hypothesis driven approach, which was to prove that rats recovered from lateral hypothalamic lesions, lacked the homeostatic controls of thirst, and drank only to wet their mouths. I proved it by showing that if you infused water into mouth they would stop drinking, but if you infused it into the stomach, which would inhibit thirst in a non-lesioned rat, they would continue to drink just as much, as long as there were eating dry food. My continued work on meal patterns, eventually led Ted Vanitallie to hire me to conduct similar pattern analysis with humans, but that’s another whole story, not germaine to how I got into science in the first place.

What was the initial motivation to start SSIB and who of your colleagues at the time played major roles?
During the early 1970’s, shortly after I began my career as an independent scientist, there several national and international conferences, and there was an annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, which had sessions in which a number of young scientists and students could present their work. I was dissatisfied with the EPA program the presentations on ingestive behavior, which I envisioned as an important sub-discipline within psychology. I became program chair of the Association in 1980, but I could still not get the program organized to place the ingestive behavior presentations in sessions that would maximize interaction among those working in this area of science. In order to facilitate that interaction, Linda Bartashuk and another colleague at the Natick Labs suggested organizing a satellite meeting at the Boston meeting in 1971. From that meeting a series of satellite meetings with EPA took place every year with a dinner and a series of 5 minute presentations. When the group reach almost 80, in 1985, I proposed with a fellow organizer Suzanne Sunday, that it was time to create an organization to conduct these meetings. Out of that a small nucleus that included Tony Sclafani and Carol Maggio, created a structure with bylaws, and an organizational meeting was held the following year, 1986, at the International Congress of Physiology of Food and Fluid Intake, in Seattle Washginton. The organizing committee empowered the four of us to serve as incorporators and with the help of the Columbia law clinic which provided free legal services through its students, we got incorporated in NY state on March 30, 1987. I was elected first president, and Steve Woods as president elect. We appointed Eliot Stellar as our honorary president. Gerry Smith and Alan Epstein were next presidents in that order, followed by Barbara Rolls and Anthony Sclafani. Carol Maggio was the first secretary and Tony Sclafani the first treasurer.

How has your original vision of SSIB changed over time (if it has)?
My vision has changed. Originally the vision was The Society's main goal is to advance the study of ingestive behavior by facilitating communication among its members. (this is from the 1996 directory) The vision is incorporated in the Society’s current vision statement, which was formulated as a draft in 2000. Currently I think the vision should be revised to reflect a reality needed to survive: “to promote training and employment of individuals who are studying ingestive behavior”. Meetings and reports of research should ultimately be in service of ensuring survival of the society and the field, which will be determined by how well we can attract new students, and keep their mentors employed. This function should be viewed as primary to the society, with the cutting edge research serving to promote long term survival.

What do you think is the future of SSIB? It’s difficult to predict the future. A better question is what would you like to see in the future of SSIB, so I will answer it this way: I would like to see a balance and an integration of basic and applied research, an outreach to aspects of ingestive behavior that are not strongly represented, and especially programs that emphasize the interplay of human and animal research. I have had the good fortune of being chair of the Columbia University Seminar on Appetitive Behavior for the past 30 years. During that time I have endeavored to bring to the seminar scientists from a variety of backgrounds and have emphasized that their presentations should be both theoretically driven but strongly integrative of human and animal work. I would like to see a similar kind of presentation for at least some of the symposia and contributed papers at SSIB. I would also like to promote diversity, not only in the narrow sense of personal preferences, but in a broad sense of the scientific discipline and international representation. I think the main function of the society should be the provision of training and job opportunities for its members. I noticed that the current directory includes only a fraction of what must be close to 25 or 50 institutions that award degrees to student who work in the field. There are currently only three programs listed outside the US, although I know of several in Europe. Getting these training programs publicized and reaching out to potential students should be a major priority. The work of scientists in the field is a secondary consideration, but it is also a driver of the training programs, so the two must work hand in hand.

What has the Society contributed to your own career?
I have had many successful collaborations over the years that were facilitated by meetings with colleagues at annual meetings and associated meetings. My students and post docs were able to present at SSIB which also helped their careers. Colleagues at meetings have been very supportive of my research with valuable suggestions for experimental designs and data analyses. Should it merge with other societies or remain freestanding? I think the Society’s structure and mode of operation are different from that of the other possible societies with which it could merge, such as TOS or ACHEMS, and that it should remain separate. I would like to see a broader approach to ingestive behavior, and I am glad to see that several of the symposia thisyear have branched out into areas not traditionally presented at SSIB, namely the symposium of food insecurity, and social aspects. I think the tendency for fractionation is not in the best interest of the society, and that we should take a broad view of the all the influences on food and fluid intake, from the molecular to the evolutionary and anthropological. I also think we need to pursue a continued international approach. I have noticed that over the years, the folks in the UK have gravitated to human research to the point where animal work is rarely reported at their annual meeting (British Feeding and Drinking Group). We do not have sufficient membership from European, Asian and South American countries, and the number of ingestive behavior scientists in the Middle East is appallingly low. We should make attempts to encourage units of ingestive behavior in these areas of the world and encourage them to attend our meetings.

If you had to pick two super stars of SSIB in past years, other than yourself of course, who would they be?
I would rather see the question rephrased as who do you see in the field of ingestive behavior as thought leaders in the past and future. I don’t like to pick superstars, but I think that Anthony Sclafani, Tim Moran, Harvey Grill, and Gerry Smith played important roles in moving our science forward. I think that David Booth as editor of Appetite, and his successors Suzanne Higgs, and Marion Hetherington, as well as Thomas Lutz, Nori Geary, and Wolfgang Langhans have also been influential. Jacques Le Magnen and Stylio Nicolaidis made pioneering contributions, and they were followed by Daniel Tomè. Of the upcoming scientists, I think Jeff Brunstrom and Kathleen Keller have developed strong research approaches.