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May 07, 2019 Tuesday 09:55:38 AM IST

Poverty’s mark on genes

Teacher Insights

Northwestern University, in a study, has challenged prevailing understanding of genes as immutable features of biology that are fixed at conception.

Previous research has shown that socio-economic 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. 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 socio-economic 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. 


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