Scientists to study how environmental factors affect our genes


  • Scientists at the University of Sheffield to lead first comprehensive epigenetics and evolution study
  • The research aims to understand how the environment we live in can change the way our genes are read and how this can affect future generations.
  • The project is one of five grants awarded under the Pushing the Frontiers program of the Natural Environment Research Council.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield will study how environmental factors might play a role in altering our genes, thanks to a £ 1.5million grant from UKRI.

Professor Jon Slate and his team will conduct the first comprehensive epigenetics study, to investigate how environmental factors may play a role in changing how our genes are read. The study will also focus on methylation, an epigenetic mechanism that can alter gene function.

The researchers will follow the Soay sheep population on Hirta Island, St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, one of the best-studied mammal populations in the world.

Jon Slate, professor of evolutionary genetics at the University of Sheffield, said: “Epigenetics, or the study of how the environment can influence the reading of our genetic code, has never been studied at this time. scale previously. Our research aims to understand whether the environment we live in can change the way our genes are read and how this might affect our offspring and future generations.

“To do this, we will study a sheep population on the remote island of Hirta. The Soay sheep population has been carefully studied for over 35 years and the environmental conditions on the island are harsh, which means that natural selection is strong enough for evolutionary changes to be observed and measured over the span of time. study.

“Because sheep have a short generation time, it’s the equivalent of doctors studying cohorts of humans and their children for centuries. “

The project is one of five grants awarded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) under the Pushing the Frontiers program to fund high-risk and innovative science.

The Pushing the Frontiers program aims to facilitate truly adventurous and ambitious science and harness new technologies and approaches. The projects will be funded for a period of three to four years.

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chairman of NERC, said: “These highly innovative research projects could advance our understanding of fundamental questions in environmental and earth sciences, and lead to important scientific breakthroughs. The grants are the result of an exciting new pilot program to encourage and fund some of the UK’s most outstanding environmental scientists to conduct riskier and transformational research.

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