Daniel Belsky’s work investigates how genes and environments combine to shape human life courses. The goal of this work is to identify mechanisms that lead socially disadvantaged populations to suffer increased morbidity and early mortality, with the aim of informing novel approaches to intervention. He is especially concerned with factors influencing successful development of youth and how childhood-to-young-adult developmental trajectories shape outcomes in aging.
My plans for the fellowship period
I will conduct life-course longitudinal studies of how genetic influences identified in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) combine with environmental factors to shape successful development of youth. One focus is on results from GWAS of educational attainment. I will conduct polygenic score studies in cohorts from the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. These studies will test how genetic variants linked with educational attainment are related to characteristics of children’s families and neighborhoods, how they shape children’s early development, and how they influence the courses of their adult lives. A primary objective is to test how genetic influences on development shape the environments children encounter as they grow-up and how environments in turn may shape genetic influences. I am also pursuing work to test how genetic influences on children’s physical development and health shape outcomes through the first half of the life course. The goal of this work is to use new genetic discoveries as a tool to identify mechanisms of youth development that can be modified with environmental interventions.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
My Jacobs Fellowship research aims to identify mechanisms of successful youth development. Understanding of these mechanisms will inform design of public policies and intervention programs. The goal is to break down barriers faced by children born into materially- and socially-disadvantaged homes that contribute to health inequalities in aging.