Genes and the environment

Amboseli baboons

Genes, Environment, and Gene Expression in a Wild Primate Population

Understanding the expression and evolution of complex traits requires, among other things, measuring the genetic variation and norms of reaction that give rise to these traits. This in turn requires an understanding of the interplay between genes, phenotypes, and the environment. Surprisingly little is known about the natural history of gene by environment interactions (GEIs) within wild populations, including basic knowledge about the types and timing of the environmental factors that modulate genotype-phenotype relationships. We aim to address this gap by examining multiple aspects of GEIs in the Amboseli baboons, particularly those that involve early life stress, a category of environmental effects that has often been implicated in G x E effects. We are testing hypotheses about the ways in which GEIs influence phenotypic variation in adult baboons, and the manner in which GEIs affect standing genetic variation. Gene expression has been chosen as the focal phenotype for this work because it is a biologically important complex trait and because candidate genotypes for this phenotype can be identified a priori. Our dataset will be of particular interest from a comparative evolutionary perspective because many of the target loci are thought to be evolving under selection in humans and other primates.