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Approved Research

Lifecycle shocks, genetics and long-term outcomes

Principal Investigator: Dr Gabriella Conti
Approved Research ID: 61860
Approval date: March 7th 2022

Lay summary

The overall aim of this project is to study the effect of exposure to different shocks in early and later life on long-term outcomes, controlling for genetics, and investigating also the interplay between those shocks and genetics. While there is a variety of papers that have studied the association as well as the causal effects of different shocks in pregnancy, childhood and adulthood on later-life outcomes, no work has directly compared the impacts of the two; moreover, the interplay with genetic is entirely new.

The availability of new genomic data like the one contained in the UK Biobank has given rise to a series of studies in epidemiology that investigate the genetic origins of certain illnesses. In this study we go one step further by analysing the relationship between environmental, health and socio-economic factors - like exposure to pollution or flu in early life - and genetic predisposition as determinants of various outcomes and diseases in adulthood. To the best of our knowledge this is the first study that explores differences in exposure to different shocks in early and later life and their interaction with genetic variants causing different diseases and outcomes in adulthood. To this end, we will construct single quantitative measures of genetic predisposition or polygenic scores for the main outcomes of interest (BMI, birth weight and other diseases observed in adulthood, but also educational attainment) using Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS) results. Then, we will estimate models where the focus of the analysis will be on the interaction between the polygenic scores and exposure to shocks (importantly, also multiple shocks in different periods).

This study will further our understanding about how the causal impacts of external shocks vary among individuals with different genetic variants. The results from this study will allow to identify the groups in the population at higher risk of developing certain illnesses, or of reaching lower human capital accumulation under adverse environmental conditions and will allow us to develop policy recommendations intended to protect vulnerable groups of the population, such as pregnant women and children, or frailer adults.