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Social Status Genes

May 17, 2012

When a female monkey’s rank changes, thousands of her genes are affected.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

The social order of genes… I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A female monkey’s social rank can affect which genes in her immune system are turned on and off. This according to Duke biologist Jenny Tung, who conducted the research while at the University of Chicago. She and her colleagues put adult female macaques at the Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta into 10 groups of 5. Each female’s social rank changed when she joined her new group. The researchers then analyzed the gene activity of white blood cells sampled from each monkey.

JENNY TUNG (Duke University):

Low ranking individuals, for example, tended to express genes related to immune function and to inflammation more highly than high ranking individuals.

HIRSHON:

She says while humans don’t have the same social structure as the monkeys, previous studies suggest that having a low rank at work is associated with increased activity in genes related to social stress and inflammation. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

A female rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) and her offspring. (Aiwok/Wikimedia Commons)