The Epigenetics of COVID-19: a Memory of Racial Marginalization

Maria Encinosa, Dr. Anne Pfister, Department of Anthropology, University of North Florida, 1 UNF Frive, Jacksonville, FL 32224

Race has little biological meaning. Yet, racial identity defines boundaries of community and impacts the experiences of individuals. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected minority communities in the United States, triggering many explanations for racial disparities in health. By dissecting the narratives emerging from public discourse and evidence from biological and social sciences literature, I analyze the potential for epigenetic research to serve as a missing link that operationalizes the embodiment of racialized social experiences as comorbidities that enhance vulnerability to COVID-19. The theory of embodiment describes how our material and social worlds become embodied aspects of our biology. Epigenetic modifications, which affect gene expression without changing the nucleotide sequence of DNA, exemplify the body's porousness to the external environment as they can be triggered by environmental stressors. Minority populations are more likely to be subject to environments characterized by exposures ranging from residential pollution to malnutrition. In turn, these stimuli are linked to stress, metabolic, and respiratory disorders which increase COVID-19 susceptibility. The epigenome thus serves as a living memory of racial marginalization, recording and transmitting the effects of environmental stressors for generations and influencing who lives and dies during a global pandemic.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Maria Encinosa

Institution: University of North Florida

Type: Poster

Subject: Anthropology & Archeology

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 1
Date/Time: Mon 1:30pm-2:30pm
Session Number: 2024