Stellar article by Duke Today regarding how social status leaves a lasting impact on gene regulation
Robin Smith reliably reports recent advancements in social pathology in macaques. New findings from Duke University and the University of Chicago reveal that gene networks regulating bacterial and viral immune pathways are measurably affected by the social status of an individual.
Researchers recently discovered that in macaque monkeys, females that were lower in social rank showed measurable upregulation in immune system gene networks. Previous theories suggested that only antibacterial systems are upregulated in monkeys with low social status, while antiviral genes were downregulated. The previous school of thought was that social animals would make an biological trade-off to genetically prepare for physical altercation when at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
New results, as reported by Robin, found that both antiviral and antibacterial genes are upregulated. Additionally, female monkeys who once inhabited low-status positions maintained genetic upregulation of immunity-related genes even after they climb into high status positions. In reporting these results, Robin stays well-focused on only reporting the hard facts, and avoids deviating into opinion, politics or non-scientific narratives.
While well written, one of the only critiques of Smiths’ article would be slight oversimplification of scientific context. Rather than stating that the “harassment” that low social-status monkeys receive is the cause for changes in gene regulation, Smith should have stated the conditions of low society as broader, since the exact social mechanisms defining low-status life cannot be narrowed to harassment alone. That being said, Smith writes clearly, does not sensationalize and does not deviate from what is truly found in the research.
Robin clearly uses well thought language. She does not sensationalize, fear monger or emotionally charge the interpretation of the results. Her news article is well cited, with easy to follow direct links to the works that she is citing. Smith does well to make her profile accessible, as her social media, institution email and previous works are readily available. Further, she presents her work in an ad-free environment, free from product pitches and distracting pictures.
Robin Smith from Duke Today describes a study on rhesus macaque monkeys intended to investigate how social status can affect future gene expression and long-term health. The experiment took place in Atlanta at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and was undertaken by a team of researchers from Duke University and the University of Chicago. The article first informs the reader on the general social structures of rhesus macaque females, detailing the existence of dominants and subordinates and their interaction. Smith then explains how previous work found that social rank can affect the expression of immune system genes, making low-ranking individuals more susceptible to microbial disease.
Smith gives a brief overview of the methods of the study. The researchers set 45 female monkeys into 9 groups of 5, sequentially introducing them to the group habitat to establish a dominance order, then after some time, jumbled up the rankings by reintroducing them in a different order. The article correctly interprets the study as follows; female monkeys who had changed their social rank (by either rising or falling) over the course of the study period maintained some of the genetic effects from their old place in the social ladder. They cite two of the co-authors from the study, who claim that organisms’ bodies remember their social status, and that the effects of their old status ‘stick’ to their genetic code even when their rank changes. The article concludes by mentioning how social experience can have lasting and pertinent effects on long term health.
The article is concise, void of conflicting interests or bias, and speaks in accessible terminology for the lay public. Duke Today does not appear to have as large of an audience or reputation as other more mainstream news sources, but it directly links the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (where the article is published), a credible repository for scientific research.
The content of the article correctly summarizes many key points from the study. Though it shies away from many details in favor of brevity and generalization, the main takeaway – that the monkeys’ past social status influenced them later in life, even after it changed – is correctly communicated.
The article contains relatively little jargon that would be inaccessible to the general public. Supporting quotes from the article’s authors are provided to assist with presentation, but no outside sources are used, suggesting there could be inherent bias in the sources used. The paper itself is easily found following links provided on the news article. The author’s contact information and biography are not provided.
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