SIA professor presents research at World Bank

UNIVERSTIY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State School of International Affairs professor and global economics expert Johannes W. Fedderke presented the first part of a research project at the World Bank on Thursday, Feb. 24. Fedderke and three colleagues presented “Diagnosing Deep Roots of Development: Genetics, Disease, and Environmental Factors,” detailing their study of one specific gene, representing a cluster of genetic markers, with the long-term goal of finding a reliable methodology in terms of which to link social outcomes to genetics so as to inform public policy.

Their results were clear on how historic genetic adaptations to disease and ultraviolet radiation exposure have strong causal effects on per capita income. Their research has important policy implications when it comes to helping developing nations with policy remedies.

Fedderke and his colleagues Robert Klitgaard, James MacMurray, and Valerio Naplioni explored the “deep root” acid phosphatase locus 1 (ACP1), with the fundamental proposition that geography influences the distribution and intensity of disease prevalence, which in turn leads to genetic adaptation in human populations, which in turn affects economic development.

The paper is the first to explore the link of a specific genetic marker, acid phosphatase locus 1 (ACP1), to development. The assembled data on the frequencies of ACP1*A, ACP1*B, and ACP1*C alleles is a compilation of 153,090 global genotypes (the largest such genetic undertaking ever), in the populations of 121 countries.

The specific mechanism tested rests on three mutually reinforcing linkages. Ultra-violet radiation (UVR) exposure lowers folate, increases oxidative stress, and increases immune suppression (switch from pro- to anti-inflammatory immune system). Lower folates raise ACP1*B, which in turn combats oxidative stress (by raising glutathione reductase) and strengthens the switch from pro- to anti-inflammatory immune system. In order to defend against DNA and tissue damage, equatorial populations have been under substantial selection pressure. Alleles that increase pro-inflammatory responses were positively selected for, while anti-inflammatory alleles were selected against, with considerable behavioral and reproductive cost. Specifically, studies have noted that while genetic adaptations may resist certain diseases, they also cause side effects that affect drivers of development ranging from energy to learning ability to values and preferred modes of social organization.

Empirical tests, accounting for a wide range of methodological and substantive robustness checks, provide strong and robust evidence consistent with the hypothesized mechanism.

The core policy implication is benign: Vitamin B and associated nutrient treatment and continuation of disease abatement. Despite the fact that the root of development here is deep, the implication is not developmental predestination, but concrete and practical policy intervention.

Fedderke and his co-researchers will continue with this project for the next few years.