How Social Adversity Gets Under the Skin: Lessons from the Wild Baboons of Kenya

March 6, 2019


Child Development and Behavior Branch, NICHD


6710B Rockledge Drive, Room 1417, Bethesda, Maryland


In social species, including humans, interactions with other members of the same species powerfully shape the environment that animals face each day. These interactions mediate the evolutionary costs and benefits of group living as well as contribute to social gradients in health. Further, when they occur early in life, evidence suggests they can become physiologically embedded to influence health outcomes years or even decades later.

Presenter Dr. Jenny Tung’s  work uses nonhuman animal models—particularly social primates—to study how the nature and timing of social interactions affect health- and fitness-related outcomes. For this installment of the Advances in Child Development and Behavior Speaker Series, Dr. Tung will present her lab’s recent work  on the effect of social adversity at the molecular and organismal levels. Using a five-decade data set from wild baboons in Kenya, they demonstrate that social adversity in early life combines with ecological pressures to profoundly shape female lifespans. These experiences leave a biological imprint in genome-wide DNA methylation patterns and exert intergenerational effects on the survival of those females’ offspring. The lab’s findings highlight the profound effect of social interactions on health and lifespan, especially in early life, but indicate that individual genes and pathways will be differentially sensitive to social history.


For assistance with sign language interpreters and/or other reasonable accommodations to participate in this event:
Laureen Lee, CDBB, DER, NICHD
Phone: 301–496–5578

Please note: Views expressed during NICHD-sponsored events do not necessarily reflect the opinions or the official positions of NICHD, NIH, or HHS.
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