A very different take on the DOHaD hypothesis

Just came across this interesting paper by Katherine Weisensee in the American Journal of Human Biology. “Assessing the relationship between fluctuating asymmetry and cause of death in skeletal remains: A test of the developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis” appears to have data supporting the relationship between death from degenerative disease and early development. The study used analysis of the craniofacial features of skeletal remains alongside documented causes of death from the 19th and early 20th century. Fluctuating asymmetry is apparently a marker of stress during development and Weisensee attributes these skeletal characteristics to early life influences on growth.

New starters due

There are just a few days until the new academic year begins for the University and I am having a ‘day off’ while I still have the chance. Sadly a day off on my own is not quite as exciting as it should be and I think what it has really meant is that I have spent this morning working at maybe only 50% normal speed. I will call it a day in a moment or two and get some valuable R&R.

The new academic year should be bringing a new crop of PhD students to the lab. Most of our new starters are international and at the moment I am not sure how many I am actually going to have. Confirmed new starters are Amanda Avery (a dietetic colleague in the Division, co-supervised with Judy Swift), Bashair Al-Riyami (co-superivising with Andy Salter), Lujain Almousa (co-supervising with Andy Salter) and Muniirah Mbabazi (co-supervising with Judy Swift and Paul Wilson). It will be exciting to see the team swelling so significantly.

It also strikes me that these new entrants are greatly expanding the scope of the research going on within the group. We now span a wide range of subject areas extending out from the core business of animal models of metabolic and physiological disorders (still very much at our core and to be pursued by Bashair and Lujain). Some of that work and interest is now spreading into work with human cohorts, such as the MAGIC study (Sarah Ellis, PhD) factors that determine successful weight loss (Amanda) and we are now moving into areas relating to issues in the developing world (health and nutrition policy in Uganda, HIV in Africa). Clearly diversity and flexibility are the order of the day and it will be interesting to see how these students interact with each other.

New paper drafted

So it is done. “Exposure of neonatal rats to maternal cafeteria feeding during suckling alters hepatic gene expression and DNA methylation in the insulin-signalling pathway” has achieved the status of full first draft. I now need to check it through carefully and then let my coauthors loose on my purple prose.

Any journal editors out there feeling in a benevolent mood? 


In a state of shock…

I actually started writing a paper today. It seems an eternity since I had the time and space to do something as useful. I got a fair way too, all the methods finished and a good stab at the results section. 

I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy writing about what we do. Hoping to do more tomorrow!

On the death of David Barker

I learned yesterday of the death of Professor David Barker at the age of 75. Barker was the prime mover behind the last 2 decades of research into the developmental origins of health and disease and although he always expressed irritation at the developmental origins hypothesis being referred to as the Barker Hypothesis, all of us who work in the area should regard him as the father of our field.

I first came across David Barker when I was a young postdoc beginning my work on a new rat model to test what was then called the FOAD (Fetal Origins of Adult Disease) hypothesis. I was initially a skeptic but found myself entranced by his persuasive lectures and superb flair for selling the idea. David was a marvellous speaker and this led to the big influence that he had on the field and the dominance of his core group initially focused on Southampton and Auckland. The ideas that he expressed changed my view of nutrition and health and opened up new vistas of opportunity for my own research. Hundreds of others have followed on from this and so David Barker was essentially at the centre of a vast grouping of young epidemiologists, nutritionists and eventually molecular biologists, all focused on an area of science that was born in the notebooks of a midwife from Hertfordshire and a charismatic epidemiologist.

David and I weren’t always on the same wavelength and had our differences. When I left Southampton in 1998 we were not on good terms and we never spoke again. Despite this I am genuinely sad at his passing and feel a great debt of gratitude to him for the start he helped provide for my own career. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.


We are now in that stage of the academic cycle where we wait with bated breath for the return of students to the university and express regret at how badly we have used the summer holiday period. Where are all the papers that we promised we would write? Where is the mass of new data, or the new research proposal? Why oh why did we relax quite so much?
For me, the usual September feelings are not quite the same as in other years and it is quite unsettling, in a pleasant way. Normally, being an organised kind of person I would be planning and updating all of my teaching for the full year ahead and trying to work out where the pockets of space might be to incorporate some research time. Not this year though, as I am the lucky recipient of some research leave and so the full year of teaching is actually a fairly light few weeks of teaching, leaving me the space to focus on my growing team of postgraduate students (at least 3 new people starting in the next month or so- maybe more…) and to do some research.
This makes September 2013 rather different for me- life but not as I know it. There is no panic brewing, no rapidly foreshortening perspective on things. The open plains of research opportunity are beckoning and I am starting to formulate some ideas on how I will use the time.
Some essentials first:
Writing up some of the data that we should be incorporating into publications, including some nice data on epigenetic changes following maternal over-nutrition in the suckling period, the findings of a service evaluation on weight gain in pregnancy, some intergenerational study data and the early work from the MAGIC study.
Then a task that needs doing but I have been putting off:
My book, Nutrition: A Lifespan Approach (available in all good bookshops!) is in need of a refresh and update, so I aim to get a second edition written by this time next year.
Add to the mix a bit of networking. I want to do some traveling to see people I collaborate with, plus a few that I would like to collaborate with. Talking has got to be on my list of priorities.
In addition there will be some funding applications to put together- but I can’t really say what they are. Walls have ears and competitors have no scruples, as they say.