Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing: Examining the Interplay of Genes and the Social Environment
Abstract: Researchers have proposed a genetic differential sensitivity to social environmental model positing that individuals with certain genetic makeups are more sensitive to favorable and unfavorable environmental influences than those without these genetic makeups. This is fundamentally different from most GxE models. There are several issues facing researchers who want to use this type of GxE model: (1) the need for greater theorizing about the social environment to properly understand the size and direction of environmental influences; (2) the potential for combining multiple genetic markers to measure an individual’s genetic sensitivity to environmental influence; (3) how life course and developmental theories may be used to inform GDSE research and (4) how epigenetic processes interplay with this GxE model. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study I demonstrate these issues and explore possible avenues for future research.
Bio: Colter Mitchell is the Faculty Research Fellow at the Survey Research Center and the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan. He received his MA in Statistics and PhD in Sociology at the University of Michigan. During his graduate training his research utilized population-based studies to examine the influences of demographic, individual, family, and social environmental influences on health and behavior in the US, Brazil and Nepal. As a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, he expanded his research by collecting and analyzing genetic and epigenetic data to study the interplay of genes and the social environment using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing data. After joining the faculty here at Michigan in 2012, he has continued this work by co-directing two studies using the Fragile Families data. One study examines the reciprocal relationship between genes and epigenetics and the social environment. The other recently funded FFCW study, with Chris Monk and Luke Hyde, examines the role of the social environment—particularly poverty related stressors—on functional and structural brain development. He also leads the University of Michigan biomarker analysis team for the Army STARRS project utilizing GWAS and epigenetic data to study PTSD, depression and suicide in US Army soldiers.