Skip to main content Skip to navigation
CAS in the Media Arts and Sciences Media Headlines

Small differences in mom’s behavior may show up in child’s epigenome

Adding evidence to the importance of early development, a new study links neutral maternal behavior toward infants with an epigenetic change in children related to stress response.

Epigenetics are molecular processes independent of DNA that influence gene behavior. In this study, researchers found that neutral or awkward behavior of mothers with their babies at 12 months correlated with an epigenetic change called methylation, or the addition of methane and carbon molecules, on a gene called NR3C1 when the children were 7 years old. This gene has been associated with regulating the body’s response to stress.

Elizabeth Holdsworth.

“There is evidence of a relationship between the quality of maternal-infant interaction and methylation of this gene though these are small effects in response to a relatively small variation in interaction,” said Elizabeth Holdsworth, a Washington State University biological anthropologist and lead author of the study published in the American Journal of Human Biology.

Other studies have connected extreme stress in early life, like neglect and abuse, to more dramatic methylation on this particular gene in adults. However, Holdsworth emphasized that the small difference indicated by this study may be an indication of normal human variation and it’s hard to determine if there are any long-term effects.

Find out more

Science Daily

The Indian Express

WSU Insider


Hindustan Times

New study suggests Mayas utilized market-based economics

More than 500 years ago in the midwestern Guatemalan highlands, Maya people bought and sold goods with far less oversight from their rulers than many archeologists previously thought.

That’s according to a new study in Latin American Antiquity that shows the ruling K’iche’ elite took a hands-off approach when it came to managing the procurement and trade of obsidian by people outside their region of central control.

In these areas, access to nearby sources of obsidian, a glasslike rock used to make tools and weapons, was managed by local people through independent and diverse acquisition networks. Overtime, the availability of obsidian resources and the prevalence of craftsmen to shape it resulted in a system that is in many ways suggestive of contemporary market-based economies.

Rachel Horowitz.

“Scholars have generally assumed that the obsidian trade was managed by Maya rulers, but our research shows that this wasn’t the case at least in this area,” said Rachel Horowitz, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of anthropology at Washington State University. “People seem to have had a good deal of economic freedom including being able to go to places similar to the supermarkets we have today to buy and sell goods from craftsmen.”

Find out more

WSU Insider
Science Daily

What is anxiety?

National Public Radio’s Rhitu Chatteriee interviewed WSU anthropology professor Ed Hagen, among others, to expand understanding of anxiety.


Americans are anxious. Nearly three years of a pandemic, political unrest and ongoing economic instability have left people feeling fearful, ill at ease. This week, we’re spending some time understanding anxiety. We will kick off the series with a simple question – what is anxiety? NPR’s health correspondent Rhitu Chatterjee went looking for the answer and brings us this story.

RHITU CHATTERJEE: Most of us have experienced anxiety at some point in our lives, and we know how it shows up in our bodies – racing thoughts, struggling to sit still, queasy stomach, sensations that bring a sense of dread.

Ed Hagen.

CHATTERJEE: …anxiety can be adaptive. That’s why researchers think that it probably played a key role in human evolution because it alerted our ancestors to threats in their environment. Ed Hagen studies the evolution of emotions and mental illnesses at Washington State University.

ED HAGEN: And if you look at the kinds of things that people tend to be anxious about, they do seem to line up with those kinds of longstanding evolutionary threats.

CHATTERJEE: Like predators, poisonous foods and animals, disease and even social threats.

HAGEN: Most of us are, you know, really concerned that we maintain a good reputation with our friends and group members.

Listen & find out more

National Public Radio

Ancient dart throwing provides introduction to experimental archeology

The first complex weapon system developed by humans is helping Washington State University students learn about both ancient technological innovation and modern-day experimental archeology.

Originating in Europe over 30,000 years ago, the “atlatl” consists of a short stick or board with a cup at one end that enables the wielder to throw a dart further and with more force than a spear. The weapon pre-dates the bow and is still used around the world today to hunt large game.

Shannon Tushingham.

On a cloudy afternoon earlier this semester on the Thompson Flats at WSU Pullman, students in Shannon Tushingham’s archeological methods and interpretation class had the unique opportunity to hunt wooly mammoths with the ancient weapon system. The key difference between the students’ mammoth hunt and that of their ancient ancestors was that the mammoths at WSU were made of cardboard.

“I find that my students just love anything hands on, and this is a real fun one,” Tushingham said. “Whenever you get to throw projectiles in class, it is a big hit.”

Find out more

WSU Insider

We’ve Been Worried About Overpopulation for Millenia

Our population has just reached 8 billion people, but we are not the first ones to worry about overpopulation.

In November 2022, the United Nations announced that for the first time the world’s population had reached 8 billion people. The milestone, says the organization, is both a unique opportunity to celebrate our diversity and to understand our shared responsibly in taking care of the planet. It matters more than ever because while the number of humans is growing, the world’s resources are shrinking because of climate change.

But overpopulation isn’t a new problem — it’s been around long before the number of people living on Earth broke a billion.

In the ancient Epic of Atrahasis, written in 1700 B.C., the gods were tired of an overpopulated planet and began eliminating humans through a series of plagues and then a great flood. The epic highlights the fears surrounding overpopulation even when our numbers likely hovered around a few million.

Some 2,000 years later, there was concern for overpopulation again, but this time it’s backed by archeological evidence in the southwestern U.S. A 2014 study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) describes a society that couldn’t support an inflated population, especially as the climate shifted. The study looks at the ancient Pueblo population between A.D. 500 to 1300 when the birthrate ballooned for years due to a transition from hunter gathering to agriculture, as well as favorable farming conditions. But then around A.D. 1200, the society imploded on itself.

Tim Kohler.

“They bumped up against limits in their environment which caused the birthrate to slow and the death rate to tick up,” says Tim Kohler, study author and professor of anthropology at Washington State University. Water was already scarce and then a 40-year drought made agriculture that much more difficult. It was a time of violence and strife between the haves (those living on successful farmland) and the have-nots (those who could no longer feed their families).

Kohler says that what happened to the ancient Puebloans could provide a stark warning. The world has witnessed incredible feats in our ability to produce food starting in the 1950s with the Green Revolution, when industrial farming took over traditional methods to support a massive population boom. But, says Kohler, now we’re up against climatic shifts that could negatively impact global food production.

“It’s not hard to see the parallels between then and now,” he says.

Find out more