The Sterner Lab is interested in the genetic basis of distinctive human and non-human primate traits. We employ both within and between species perspectives and use a combination of genomics (broadly defined to include transcriptomics and epigenomics) and molecular cell biology to connect primate genotypes to phenotypes in order to address larger questions about primate evolution, biology, health and disease. We have ongoing research in the following areas:

Evolution of Primate Immune Responses
Our research provides an evolutionary framework for understanding why some species (or individuals within a species) are better able to control certain infections. We are specifically interested in the role regulatory variants play in shaping immune responses between species and within populations, and how evolution has shaped these regions of the genome. We have ongoing research projects that combine genomics/transcriptomics with more experimental approaches in order to connect genetic variants to variation in disease susceptibility and intensity. Related publications: Simons et al., Submitted;
Brinkworth & Sterner 2013 in Primates, Pathogens and Evolution.

Genetics/Epigenetics of Aging and Age-Related Diseases
We recently joined the World Health Organization’s Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health (SAGE) project. Our role in this project is to advise on DNA collection methods and develop genetic markers for aging and age-related diseases (e.g., telomere length, SNPs, DNA methylation profiles). We are specifically interested using epigenetic data to examine how lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors come together to influence rate of biological aging in a cross-cultural context. In addition, we are currently testing if biological samples commonly collected in field-based studies (e.g., saliva, dried blood spots) yield telomere length estimates that are comparable to those obtained from whole blood collected by venipuncture. For more information about SAGE, see our website
http://www.bonesandbehavior.org/sage/.

Human Brain Development and Evolution
We have an ongoing interest in human brain evolution. More specifically, what role has regulatory variation played in shaping human brain development and how has evolution shaped these regions of the genome. This research stems largely from work carried out by Sterner and her colleagues at Wayne State University. They found there is greater variability in the expression of a number of genes in the human brain during childhood, potentially reflecting a developmental period when neurological memory is being established and the brain is more plastic (
Sterner et al., 2012 PLoS One). Interestingly, this study also showed that genes typically thought of as ‘immune-related’ are actually expressed in normal brain tissue. This finding adds to growing evidence that some ‘immune-related’ proteins actually play important roles in normal brain development and plasticity. They also identified 39 genes that have significant age-related patterns of gene expression during childhood, many of which are novel candidates in brain development and may play roles in neurological and behavioral disorders (Sterner et al., 2013 American Journal of Human Biology).


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