The GECKO Project

Socioeconomic status is among the most powerful known risk factors for poor developmental and health outcomes at all stages of a person’s life. Led by Dr. W. Thomas Boyce, Gene Expression Collaborative for Kids Only - GECKO - is part of a program of research that examines how different social environments, such as a culture, environment, and socioeconomic status, influence children’s gene expression.

Why do most children follow a developmental path that is highly typical of the social class into which they were born, while others show striking signs of atypical resilience or vulnerability?

Why do some poor children thrive and some advantaged children do not?

By clarifying population-level variability in the early experiences of children – within their families, neighbourhoods and communities – we can learn more about the strengths and strategies that children from different socioeconomic backgrounds use to deal with the everyday difficulties and stress that can affect their development.  Dr. Boyce and the GECKO research team hope to apply this knowledge towards designing programs that can help kids perform better in school and lead healthier lives.

GECKO: One in a Series of Studies

The GECKO Project is part of a four-project collaborative aimed to develop new knowledge of how early experiences may create epigenetic modifications in stress-responsive brain circuitry and genes, which in turn regulates the pace and character of neurodevelopment. It is the starting point for a longer-term effort to design, develop and conduct longitudinal, population-level studies that explore how neurogenomic factors alter child developmental outcomes. By linking biobehavioural measures to population-level socioeconomic, developmental, educational, health and genomic datasets, the GECKO Project lays the foundation for further genetic and epigenetic studies at the whole child level.

Others working together as part of this collaborative include Dr. Anthony (Tony) Herdman, Michael Smith Scholar and assistant professor with the UBC School of Audiology and Speech Sciences, Dr. Michael Kobor, a UBC associate professor of medical genetics based at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, and Marilyn J. Essex, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin.