How do our social circumstances influence the working of our genome? The question may surprise. We often think of the genome as a set of unchanging instructions that determine our behavior and health. In fact, the genome is highly responsive to our standing in society, health behaviors, relationships, and experiences in the family, at school, and at work.
The Social Genomics research area at the Jacobs Center seeks to understand how social forces regulate the genome by drawing on unique data that describe people’s social worlds and that include genetic information. A major theme is how people’s experiences “get under the skin” and change the likelihood of health and well-being.
One such project looks at people’s experiences from early adolescence to mid-adulthood. We are especially interested in experiences that people had in their homes while they were growing up. A second project looks at how bullying in childhood is related to genetic activity in early adulthood. We focus on physical victimization and social exclusion and how these challenges may have lasting effects at the level of our genes.
Our projects are guided by expertise from sociology, demography, biology, psychology, and statistics, making this an exciting scientific endeavor. And by better understanding connections between society and genetics, we can alert policy-makers to the often-subtle but long-ranging impacts of society on health and well-being.
Cole, SW, Shanahan, MJ, Gaydosh, L., & Harris, KM. In press. Inflammatory and antiviral gene expression in Add Health: Molecular pathways to social disparities in disease emerge by young adulthood. PNAS