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 and phenotypes 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 variation in disease susceptibility and intensity in primates. We are specifically interested in the role regulatory variation plays in shaping immune responses to simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) between species and within populations. We have ongoing research projects that combine genomics/transcriptomics with more experimental approaches in order to connect genetic variants to variation in infection status and health outcomes.

Graduate Students: Tanner Anderson (MS research)
Collaborators: Nelson Ting (University of Oregon) and members of the Kibale Ecohealth Project.
Immunogenetics related publications: Simons et al., 2019
Genome Biology and Evolution; Simons et al., 2017 Molecular Ecology.

Epigenetics of Aging and Age-Related Diseases
Aging is considered a risk factor for many of the world’s most prevalent diseases. A number of recent studies have demonstrated associations between accelerated biological aging and age-related disease in humans, but the mechanisms that underlie these associations have yet to be identified. To better understand these mechanisms, we are developing an epigenetic clock model for rhesus macaque and using this clock to investigate the relationship between age acceleration, environmental factors and disease.

Graduate Students: Elisabeth Goldman (PhD research)
Collaborators: Noah Snyder-Mackler (University of Washington) and Lucia Carbone (Oregon Health and Science University).
Aging related publications: Goldman et al., 2018
Journal of Human Biology.

Muscle Fiber Type and the Evolution of Bipedalism
Humans are obligate bipeds. Comparative analyses across living primates has revealed many morphological and physiological changes necessary for efficient bipedal locomotion. We are specifically interested in the role fiber type plays in primate locomotion. Recent work suggests a switch to a higher proportion of Type I (i.e., slow twitch) skeletal muscle fibers in the hindlimb of humans may facilitate more efficient bipedal ranging over long distances. We are currently characterizing the regulatory landscape of fiber type and testing if these regions of the genome have been shaped by natural selection in humans.

Graduate Students: Samantha Queeno (PhD research)
Collaborators: Terry Capellini (Harvard) and Matthew O’Neill (Midwestern University).

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 described in Sterner et al., 2012 PLoS One. We 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. 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. Additional brain related publications: Lipovich et al., 2016.
Journal of Comparative Neurology; Lipovich et al., 2014 Cerebral Cortex; Sterner et al., 2013 American Journal of Human Biology; Goodman et al., 2009 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Stacks Image 873