Network News


Biosocial Matters

New book collaboration between Dr Simon Williams, Dr Maurizio Meloni and Professor Paul Martin called Biosocial Matters: Rethinking the Sociology-Biology Relations in the Twenty-First Century.

This book looks at how there are encouraging signs of reconciliation emerging from an age of hostility between social vs life sciences.

A collection of readings from scholars reframing the debates to see if there is a new "Biosocial terrain" coming to light.


The EU LifePath consortium, led by EpiStressNet member Professor Paolo Vineis, held its annual meeting in Paris on 17-18 May 2016, to review the progress of the research conducted in its first year. The main aim of the LIFEPATH project is to investigate the biological pathways underlying social differences in healthy ageing, through addressing four key objectives: 

  1. to show that healthy ageing is an achievable goal for society, as it is already experienced by individuals of high socio-economic status (SES);
  2. to improve the understanding of the mechanisms through which healthy ageing pathways diverge by SES, by investigating life-course biological pathways using omic technologies;
  3. to examine the consequences of the current economic recession on health and the biology of ageing (and the consequent increase in social inequalities);
  4. to provide updated, relevant and innovative evidence for healthy ageing policies.

EpiStressNet lead, Dr Vincent Cunliffe gave a keynote talk to the Lifepath consortium on animal models for elucidating the epigenetic impacts of stress on the body.

Visit the LifePath website for more information.





Political Biology: New Book by Maurizio Meloni

A new book on political biology by Senior Research Fellow Dr Maurizio Meloni has been published this week.

Political Biology: Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics, published by Palgrave, explores the socio-political implications of human heredity from the second half of the nineteenth century to the present postgenomic moment. It addresses three main phases in the politicization of heredity: the peak of radical eugenics (1900-1945), characterized by an aggressive ethos of supporting the transformation of human society via biological knowledge; the repositioning, after 1945, of biological thinking into a liberal-democratic, human rights framework; and the present postgenomic crisis in which the genome can no longer be understood as insulated from environmental signals.

In Political Biology, Maurizio Meloni argues that thanks to the ascendancy of epigenetics we may be witnessing a return to soft heredity - the idea that these signals can cause changes in biology that are themselves transferable to succeeding generations.

This book will be of great interest to scholars across science and technology studies, the philosophy and history of science, and political and social theory.



Ilke Turkmendag to take up new position at Newcastle University

In February 2016 Ilke was successful in being selected to take on a full time position at Newcastle Law School as a Lecturer in Law, Innovation, and Society. The group aims to address challenges broadly relating to the role of law in regulating innovation, and innovation within law and legal institutions.

Dr Turkmendag will still play a key part in our Network as well as continuing to support the research on a previously awarded project called iHuman and will continue to support the Department of Sociological studies at the University of Sheffield.

Paul Shiels to give a talk at the Department of Biomedical Science

Biomedical Science Seminar Series, Conference Room, A Floor, Alfred Denny Building
Monday 1st February 2016, 12 noon

A Glaswegian approach to ageing: 'A man is only as old as his phosphate intake'

In the Scottish city of Glasgow, the difference in life expectancy between affluent and deprived communities is 28.7 years. This remarkable difference is the largest reported in the developed world, despite common risk factors for age-associated morbidities. In Glasgow, male life expectancy among the most deprived is as low as 54 years, while it stands at over 80 years among the least deprived. This exceptional gradient of socio-economic difference is reflected in the associated variation in mortality and morbidity in this city. The reasons for this remain unclear, but we have demonstrated that lower socio-economic status is associated with telomere shortening and global hypomethlylation, features of accelerated biological ageing, amongst the most deprived in association with poor diet.

We have also used longitudinal analyses of healthy human tissue to identify CDKN2A as a validated marker of ageing and have identified a small epigenetic signature associated with regulation of the CDKN2 locus that similarly fulfils this criterion. Importantly, this is active in ageing related biochemical pathways conserved across taxa (including yeast, flies, nematode worms and rodents) and links regulation of nutrition and stress related biochemical pathways,

Recently, a common direct link between ageing and nutrition has been demonstrated within mammalian genera, based around the uptake of dietary phosphate (Pi).We have therefore tested whether variation in nutritional phosphate levels linked to specific food groups associates with measures of biological ageing and health in man. Moreover, we have related this to the extreme health span disparity in Glasgow associated with socioeconomic status.

Data will be presented demonstrating accelerated ageing linked to dietary acquired phosphate, is associated with red meat intake in deprived males and that this is linked to renal disease in the Glaswegian population.

Network Co-ordinator commenced work

John-Paul Ashton has been appointed as the EpiStressNet Co-ordinator and will be the first point of contact for all matters of the network. John-Paul will work part-time for the network alongside his other part time work supporting the management of the Sheffield Zebrafish Screening Unit.

Working Pattern:
EpiStressNet (Department of Sociological Studies)       - Mon, Tues, Wed (PM)
Screening Facility (Department of Biomedical Science) - Wed (AM), Thurs, Fri

Address and Telephone:
Network Co-ordinator (EpiStressNet)
1.54 Elmfield Building, SCS
Tel: +44 (0) 114 222 6462

Bateson Centre Screening Facility
C02 Firth Court, BMS
Ext. 24696

I'm looking forward to working with and meeting all the members of the network both in the UK and Europe.

John-Paul Ashton



EpiStressNet awarded funding from ESRC/BBRSC collaboration

£3M of funding has been awarded to biological and social scientists to study the impact of early life experiences on health outcomes throughout our lives. As part of this innovative collaboration, eight new projects (including EpiStressNet) have been funded which bring together scientists from both disciplines.

Evidence shows that experiences in early life are linked to health and behavioural outcomes in the future, but the ways in which these experiences become embedded are not fully understood.

Epigenetic research allows us to look at the underlying factors of diverse human responses to environmental signals. The projects funded under this call will look at the complex interactions between social phenomena, human biology and behaviour.

The projects provide a key platform for interdisciplinary research amongst the biological and social sciences, to help expand the field and develop its potential. Research into epigenetics has significant potential implications for both health and social policy. The funded projects will look broadly into the field, but will also look at practical ways to prevent adverse effects of certain situations on future health and wellbeing.

Whole Genome Sequencing collaborations with Sheffield Childrens Hospital

Dr Helen Eachus

My role in EpiStressNet is to carry out pilot studies, which have been designed to evaluate the zebrafish as a model system for the analysis of epigenetic mechanisms underlying the social stress response. 

These initial experiments will utilise; firstly a Tapestation Bioanalyser (Agilent), used as a quality control measure during the preparation of the DNA sequencing libraries. Specifically this measured the size and concentration of DNA fragments. Then Whole Genome Bisulfite Sequencing (WGBS) technology (seen in the image on the right), carried out in conjunction with Sheffield Children’s Hospital, in order to compare the methylome of zebrafish from three groups: those that have experienced social stress; those carrying a genetic mutation that causes stress axis dysregulation and healthy control zebrafish. These analyses should highlight regions of the genome in which the methylation pattern is changed in response to stress axis dysregulation. 

The data collected will then be compared with existing human data from the pSoBid cohort (Glasgow), to see whether there are similarities between the effects of stress axis dysregulation in the zebrafish and the effects of low socioeconomic status in human populations.