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BBSRC and ESRC join forces to shed light on epigenetics

31 July 2015

£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 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.

Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC Executive Director of Science, said: “This innovative collaboration between biological and social scientists will help us to understand the impact of early life experiences on future health. Many big public health issues associated with ageing have significant sociological as well as biological dimensions. By bridging the gap between disciplines, we will help build an excellent, multidisciplinary research community in the field of epigenetics.”

Professor Jane Elliott, ESRC Chief Executive, said: "I’m delighted that ESRC and BBSRC have worked together so closely to fund these excellent projects. Not only will this research provide fascinating insights and potentially  have an impact on policy now, but will build interdisciplinary research skills that will be invaluable in these areas for the years ahead."

Funded projects:

  • Dr Jordana Bell, King’s College London - Epigenetic responses to social and environmental cues in early life and over the life course: impact on healthy ageing in UK population-based cohorts - £619,994
  • Professor Gillian Bently, Durham University - Epigenetic stability in a stressful environment and its effects on reproductive function – £198,339
  • Dr Vincent Cunliffe, University of Sheffield – EpiStressNet: A biosocial systems approach to understanding the epigenetic embedding of social stress responses - £249,703
  • Professor Paul Haggarty, University of Aberdeen - Imprinting methylation; early life influences and later cognition and mood – £446,636
  • Dr Laura Howe, University of Bristol - INTERpreting epigenetic signatures in STudies of Early Life Adversity (InterStELA) - £249,391
  • Professor Caroline Relton, University of Bristol - Epigenetics: Environment, Embodiment and Equality (E4) - £834,323
  • Dr Colum Walsh, University of Ulster - EpiFASSTT: Epigenetic effects on children's psychosocial development in a randomised trial of Folic Acid Supplementation in Second and Third Trimester -£499,427
  • Dr Chloe Chung Yi Wong, King’s College London - Epigenetic trajectories of biological response to adolescent psychosocial stress: A novel longitudinal study of discordant monozygotic twins - £493,270


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £509M in world-class bioscience in 2014-15. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see:

For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see:

About ESRC

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

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