Genevieve Housman is a PhD candidate from Arizona State University. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our fall 2015 cycle for her project entitled “Assessment of DNA methylation patterns in primate skeletal tissues.”
My research centers on understanding how epigenetic changes contribute to physical differences in primates. Within primate epigenetics, I am particularly interested in understanding how variations in DNA methylation patterns relate to variations in femur bone morphologies and the development of skeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis. My study examines both within- and between- species variation and will be the first study to assess methylation variation in hard tissues from non-human primates.
This work is novel and interdisciplinary, and it will help to answer evolutionary questions about how epigenetic factors contribute to complex skeletal phenotypes in primates. Such research has wide implications for the field of biological anthropology as it attempts to bridge the gap between molecular mechanisms and morphology to get a deeper understanding of how epigenetic-phenotype relationships have evolved in the primate lineage.
Such explorations are crucial for fully clarifying aspects of primate anatomical development and evolution. They will impact our ability to infer connections between skeletal adaptations and evolved forms of locomotion, and they will build a new framework in which evolutionary relationships among extant and extinct primates can be considered. Additionally, this work will begin to give us an appreciation for the epigenetic underpinnings of skeletal disease evolution across the primate lineage. My research will begin to help fill these gaps in skeletal epigenetics, making it vital to studies of human evolution and understanding mechanisms of morphological change.