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Kobor, CMMT study shows genes and immune system shaped by childhood poverty, stress

A University of British Columbia and Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics (CMMT) study has revealed that childhood poverty, stress as an adult, and demographics such as age, sex and ethnicity, all leave an imprint on a person’s genes. And, that this imprint could play a role in our immune response.

The study was published last week in a special volume of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that looks at how experiences beginning before birth and in the years after can affect the course of a person’s life.

Known as epigenetics, or the study of changes in gene expression, this research examined a process called DNA methylation where a chemical molecule is added to DNA and acts like a dimmer on a light bulb switch, turning genes on or off or setting them somewhere in between. Research has shown that a person’s life experiences play a role in shaping DNA methylation patterns.

The research team discovered that childhood poverty, but not socioeconomic status as an adult, was correlated with the marks or methylation patterns left on genes.

“We found biological residue of early life poverty,” said Michael Kobor, an associate professor of medical genetics ...

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