Museum of Science and Industry

Man, the popular monkeys have it so easy. All the bananas, and all the pretty monkeys want to groom them, and they get… all the good vines and stuff. And now they get stronger immune systems, too.

A recent study indicates a strong link between a monkey’s social status (roughly, how popular and powerful it is in monkey society) and its gene expression. “Gene expression” is a term for the changeable way your genes manifest themselves. A handy way to think about it is your genes are to your gene expression what a recipe is to the finished dish: one recipe may produce many different variations of the dish, depending on a variety of factors during the cooking process.

In this case, the social status of rhesus macaque monkeys directly affected their body’s stress response and immune system, among other things. One interesting takeaway here is how flexible these gene expressions are – once a monkey’s social status changes, its gene expression adjusts in a matter of weeks. There are many different ways to play the genetic hand we’re dealt, and even the most sickly monkey can benefit from making a few friends and getting a good grooming.

Image: iStockphoto

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