Seminar Series on Evolutionary Medicine - Jenny Tung: The importance of being social - social interactions, gene regulation,and fitness in nonhuman primates

  • Date: Oct 12, 2017
  • Time: 03:00 PM - 04:00 PM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Jenny Tung from the Duke University, USA
  • For more information on the research fields of Jenny Tung, please click here:
  • Location: MPI Plön
  • Room: Lecture hall
  • Host: Tobias Lenz and John Baines


In social species, interactions with other members of the same species powerfully shape the environment that animals face each day. These interactions mediate the evolutionary costs and benefits of group living and, in humans, are one of the most powerful predictors of disease susceptibility and lifespan. My lab uses nonhuman primate models to understand the evolutionary history and mechanistic underpinnings of social gradients in health. Using a 45-year data set from wild baboons in Kenya, we demonstrate that social adversity in early life combines with ecological pressures to profoundly shape individual survival and lifetime reproductive success. In both wild baboons and captive rhesus macaques, we also identify close ties between one dimension of social interactions—position in a dominance rank hierarchy—and gene regulation in the immune system. This signal is especially marked in male baboons and female rhesus macaques, and in the latter case, we show that social status causally alters the response to a model of bacterial infection. However, the relationship between dominance rank and gene regulation differs between baboons and rhesus macaques in key ways. Our results indicate that the effects of social status are contingent on how it is achieved and maintained, as well as its benefits for the organism. More broadly, our findings demonstrate that close ties between social adversity and survival have a long evolutionary history in the primate lineage, and that changes at the level of gene regulation contribute to this relationship.

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