Exploring genetics, culture and disease
Note: This guest-written column appeared in InsideUF’s biweekly print edition on March 23, 2010. The print edition is a paid insert that appears as the entire page-three of the Independent Florida Alligator.
Why do we get sick? Why do we get diseases like cancer and hypertension, the ones scientists call ‘complex diseases’? Is it something in the environment, something we do or in our genes? Why do some people, more than others, seem more prone to certain diseases?
These questions are at the heart of new research in the Department of Anthropology and the Genetics Institute. Our work is combining genetic and sociocultural data to investigate risk factors for hypertension. Lance Gravlee, a medical anthropologist, and I are studying hypertension because it is a condition subject to family history (genes) and also the environment (what you eat, how much money you make, etc.) Furthermore, it is subject to biological and psychological factors such as stress, which may result from racial discrimination and help explain why African Americans have a high prevalence of hypertension.
For more information on this research, visit www.clas.ufl.edu/users/cmulligan/Webpage/, www.gravlee.org/research/ and www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0006821. For information on a community collaboration project in Tallahassee, visit
Associate Director, UF Genetics Institute