Skip to Content

Poverty Could Leave Its Mark on Genes

THURSDAY, April 11, 2019 -- Poverty may influence how genes function, researchers report.

Specifically, they found that poverty is associated with levels of DNA methylation -- which can shape gene expression -- in nearly 10% of genes.

The findings are significant for a number of reasons, the researchers said.

"First, we have known for a long time that [poverty] is a powerful determinant of health, but the underlying mechanisms through which our bodies 'remember' the experiences of poverty are not known," said study author Thomas McDade. He directs the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

The findings also show that life experiences can shape genetic structure and function.

"There is no nature vs. nurture," McDade said in a Northwestern news release.

He was surprised to discover so many links 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," McDade said.

Further research is needed to determine the health effects of these DNA changes at the genetic sites identified in this study, he said.

Many of the affected genes are associated with processes related to immune responses to infection, skeletal development and development of the nervous system, McDade noted.

"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," he said.

The study was published recently in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

© 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Posted: April 2019

Read this next

Will Expelled Droplets Spread COVID? Ventilation May Be Key

TUESDAY, Oct. 27, 2020 -- The tiny droplets that linger in the air after people talk, cough or sneeze aren't very efficient at spreading the new coronavirus, new research...

Patients With Worst COVID-19 May Be Best Plasma Donors: Study

TUESDAY, Oct. 27, 2020 -- Factors such as sex, age and severity of the disease may help identify COVID-19 survivors who have high levels of antibodies that can protect against the...

Trial of Antibody Drug for COVID-19 Stopped for Lack of Effectivenes

TUESDAY, Oct. 27, 2020 -- Testing of Eli Lilly's antibody drug for hospitalized COVID-19 patients has been halted because the treatment doesn't help them recover from their...