Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

CSDE Fellows Invited Lectures

Fellow Host: Tiffany Pan

Social Gradients in Gene Regulation in Nonhuman Primates

Jenny Tung, Department of Biology, Duke University

10/19/2018
12:30-1:30 PM PT
121 Raitt Hall

In social species, including our own, 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 also contribute to social gradients in health. Here, I will present our recent research on the impact of social interactions at the molecular and organismal levels. Using a five-decade data set from wild baboons in Kenya, we demonstrate that social adversity in early life combines with ecological pressures to profoundly shape individual survival. Meanwhile, in captive rhesus macaques, we show that social status causally alters immune function, including the response to infection. Finally, by taking advantage of data sets from both species, we show that social status is consistently linked to variation in the regulation of innate immunity and inflammation-related genes. However, the strength and direction of these associations depend on sex, cellular environment, and the nature of the social hierarchy in which they arise.


Jenny Tung is an Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology and Biology at Duke University and an affiliate of the Duke Population Research Institute and the Center for Genomic and Computational Biology. Jenny joined the Duke faculty in 2012 after completing her post-doctoral training in the University of Chicago Department of Human Genetics and her PhD training in the Duke Biology department. Research in the Tung lab focuses on the intersection between behavior, social structure, and genes. The lab is particularly interested in how social environmental variables of known biodemographic importance, such as social status and social connectedness, feed back to influence gene regulation and population genetic structure. We primarily ask these questions in nonhuman primates and other social mammals, which are natural models for human social behavior and physiology. Currently, most of our work centers on a longitudinally studied population of wild baboons in Kenya (Tung co-directs the Amboseli Baboon Research Project) and captive rhesus macaques at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.


Tiffany is pursuing a PhD in Biocultural Anthropology and an MPH in Epidemiology. Her general research interests are disease ecology and evolutionary medicine. She is especially fascinated by the links between biology, behavior, and environment and their collective effects on human health. She plans to examine the emergence of novel human infections in the context of anthropogenic environmental changes and human-nonhuman animal interactions. The ultimate goal is to take a holistic approach to identifying risk factors for emerging diseases and preventing future epidemics. Tiffany earned a BS from Duke University, where she studied Biological Anthropology & Anatomy and Environmental Sciences.