Nav: Home

Poverty leaves a mark on our genes

April 04, 2019

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A new Northwestern University study challenges prevailing understandings of genes as immutable features of biology that are fixed at conception.

Previous research has shown that socioeconomic status (SES) is a powerful determinant of human health and disease, and social inequality is a ubiquitous stressor for human populations globally. Lower educational attainment and/or income predict increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, many cancers and infectious diseases, for example. Furthermore, lower SES is associated with physiological processes that contribute to the development of disease, including chronic inflammation, insulin resistance and cortisol dysregulation.

In this study, researchers found evidence that poverty can become embedded across wide swaths of the genome. They discovered that lower socioeconomic status is associated with levels of DNA methylation (DNAm) -- a key epigenetic mark that has the potential to shape gene expression -- at more than 2,500 sites, across more than 1,500 genes.

In other words, poverty leaves a mark on nearly 10 percent of the genes in the genome.

Lead author Thomas McDade said this is significant for two reasons.

"First, we have known for a long time that SES is a powerful determinant of health, but the underlying mechanisms through which our bodies 'remember' the experiences of poverty are not known," said McDade, professor of anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research.

"Our findings suggest that DNA methylation may play an important role, and the wide scope of the associations between SES and DNAm is consistent with the wide range of biological systems and health outcomes we know to be shaped by SES."

Secondly, said McDade, also a faculty fellow at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research, experiences over the course of development become embodied in the genome, to literally shape its structure and function.

"There is no nature vs. nurture," he adds.

McDade said he was surprised to find so many associations between socioeconomic status and DNA methylation, across such a large number of genes.

"This pattern highlights a potential mechanism through which poverty can have a lasting impact on a wide range of physiological systems and processes," he said.

Follow-up studies will be needed to determine the health consequences of differential methylation at the sites the researchers identified, but many of the genes are associated with processes related to immune responses to infection, skeletal development and development of the nervous system.

"These are the areas we'll be focusing on to determine if DNA methylation is indeed an important mechanism through which socioeconomic status can leave a lasting molecular imprint on the body, with implications for health later in life," McDade said.
-end-
"Genome-wide analysis of DNA methylation in relation to socioeconomic status during development and early adulthood" published recently in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

In addition to McDade, co-authors include Calen P. Ryan, Northwestern; Meaghan J. Jones, University of British Columbia; Morgan K. Hoke, University of Pennsylvania; Judith Borja, University of San Carlos; Gregory E. Miller and Christopher W. Kuzawa of Northwestern; and Michael S. Kobor, University of British Columbia.

Northwestern University

Related Dna Methylation Articles:

Identification of distinct loci for de novo DNA methylation by DNMT3A and DNMT3B during mammalian development
A research team working at The University of Tokyo and Kyoto University in Japan has announced that they have successfully identified specific target sites for the DNA methylases DNMT3A and DNMT3B .
Designing DNA from scratch: Engineering the functions of micrometer-sized DNA droplets
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have constructed ''DNA droplets'' comprising designed DNA nanostructures.
Large-scale analysis of protein arginine methylation by mass spectrometry
In this research, the researchers offer an overview on state-of-the-art approaches for the high-confidence identification and accurate quantification of protein arginine methylation by high-resolution mass spectrometry methods, which comprise the development of both biochemical and bioinformatics methods.
Oncotarget: DNA methylation of MMPs and TIMPs in atherothrombosis process in carotid plaques
Oncotarget Volume 11, Issue 10 reported that the statistically associated Cp G sites were analyzed in blood samples from two separate atherothrombotic stroke cohorts, ischemic stroke-cohort 1: 37 atherothrombotic patients and 6 controls, ischemic stroke-cohort 2: 80 atherothrombotic patients and 184 controls.
Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.
RNA modification -- Methylation and mopping up
Ludwig-Maximilian-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers have discovered a novel type of chemical modification in bacterial RNAs.
Structural and biochemical studies clarify the methylation mechanism of anticodon in tRNA
Groups in Ehime University, Japan and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), Japan have solved the crystal structure of the eukaryotic Trm7-TRm734 complex, which methylates the ribose at the first position of anticodon in tRNA.
DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.
First glimpse at what ancient Denisovans may have looked like, using DNA methylation data
Exactly what our ancient Denisovan relatives might have looked like had been anyone's guess for a simple reason: the entire collection of Denisovan remains includes a pinky bone, three teeth, and a lower jaw.
Methylation of microRNA may be a new powerful biomarker for cancer
Researchers from Osaka University found that levels of methylated microRNA were significantly higher in tissue and serum from cancer patients compared with that from normal controls.
More DNA Methylation News and DNA Methylation Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.