Title Epigenetics Degree of recognition Local Media name/outlet The Daily Advertiser Media type Country/Territory Australia Date 07/10/14 Description A TEAM of researchers at Charles Sturt University's (CSU) Wagga campus are working to develop improvements to social work by bringing together two separate sciences.
Research in sociology has found factors in a person's life can impact their future prosperity and may lead to trans-generational poverty, while biology research has focused on how a person's life can affect their genes and how they function.
Biologists Wouter Kalle and Brendan Adams, sociologists Fredrik Velander and Ruth Bailey, together with philosophers Morgan Luck and Wylie Breckenridge are investigating how social and biological factors can combine to impact on a person.
"What we're trying to do is make people understand that what sociologists have been saying for 50 years is true, and we actually have biological indications.
"If you understand there are biological factors playing a part in this, you understand that creating opportunity is just not good enough."
Their research has begun to find links between how a person's genes can be modified through life events which can impact a person years into the future.
While the events can be as traumatic as going to war, domestic abuse or famine, it can also include the death of relatives, stress or bullying.
Dr Kalle explained that epigenetics are the changes that occur to a person's genes during their life, which affect the function of someone's DNA.
He said it could be readily seen in twins especially when one twin was bullied at school.
"There's clear change in the epigenetics of one twin, but not the other, leaving one twin less resilient to future stresses," he said.
Dr Kalle said less resilience could have a significant impact on someone's life leading to health problems, both mental and physical.
A pregnant woman who is the victim of domestic violence can also pass the epigenetic changes in her genes to her children.
Dr Kalle said these changes were not absolute sometimes needing a trigger and weren't pathological or unable to be cured through conventional medicine.
The research group is aiming to put information about these biological characteristics into specific social science courses taught at CSU.
Ms Bailey said social workers, academics and commentators had long argued people suffering hardship have difficulty getting out of it.
"Now we have evidence that one part of that difficulty is exacerbated by how chronic hardship can affect a person's physiology, and how these effects can become trans-generational," Ms Bailey said.
"Put simply, social workers have always known that adverse life experiences affect people's life chances.
"This is precisely what the epigenetics evidence substantiates."
Producer/Author Fairfax Media Publications Pty Limited Persons Fredrik Velander, Wouter Kalle, Isobel Bailey, Morgan Luck, John Breckenridge