Nearly all diseases result from a complex interaction between an individual’s genetic make-up and the environmental agents that he or she is exposed to.
Examples of environmental agents:
Subtle differences in genetic factors cause people to respond differently when exposed to the same environmental agent. As a result, some possess a low risk for developing a disease through an environmental insult, while others are much more vulnerable.
As scientists learn more about the connection between genetics and environmental factors, and how that connection may influence human disease, they’ll begin to develop new strategies for the treatment and prevention of many illnesses.
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What is NIEHS Doing?
NIEHS researchers and grantees are presently studying a wide range of diseases and disorders with environmental triggers. Here are just a few examples:
- A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change (Full Report) (4MB) A Report Outlining the Research Needs on the Human Health Effects of Climate Change
- Captafol Profile: Report on Carcinogens U.S. workers previously were exposed to captafol during its production, formulation, or application to agricultural fields; on reentry to a sprayed field; or when working with treated timber products.
- DNA Repair NIEHS-funded researchers investigate how DNA damage and mutations increase disease risk and determine what makes some people more vulnerable to the adverse effects of environmental factors than others.
Over time, scientists have found that rare gene changes (or mutations) as well as small common genetic variations are associated with autism, which indicates that autism has a genetic contributor. Additionally, a growing area of research indicates that autism may be caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors.
One hypothesis states that autism may be triggered by a mother’s exposure to environmental agents such as air pollution or pesticides while pregnant. These exposures, in turn, could cause or contribute to the child’s development of the disorder.
A full understanding of Parkinson’s disease (PD) risk requires integrated efforts to study both genetic and environmental factors. If environmental exposures can be identified, it may lead to new targets for prevention and intervention.
Environmental agents and or factors that scientists say could be linked to PD:
- Some Natural Pesticide Alternatives (English) (119KB) This factsheet was prepared under the Community Assist of Southern Arizona (CASA) program as part of a grant.
- Alternativas para Pesticidas: Por la seguridad de su familia y de sus mascotas (123KB) Esta hoja de datos fue preparada bajo el programa Community Assist of Southern Arizona (CASA) como parte de una subvención.
- Dietary nutrition
Additional information on NIEHS’ involvement in PD research is available online via the NIEHS Environmental Health Topics webpage on Parkinson's disease.
For years, NIEHS has played a leadership role in funding and conducting studies on the ways in which environmental exposures increase breast cancer risk. This research includes animal studies to understand the role of environmental agents in the initiation and progression of cancer, as well as research on chemical risk factors and genetic susceptibility in human populations.
Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS Newsletter)
- NIEHS Exposome Faculty Connects Scientists from Across the Institute (February 2014)
- New Evidence of Gene-Environment Interaction in Autism (January 2014)
- Synergistic Gene-Environment Interactions Increase Schizophrenia Risk (July 2013)
- Paraoxonases — Poster-Children for Gene-Environment Interactions (October 2012)
- NIH Pioneer Discovers Genes Linked to High Altitude Tolerance (March 2012)
- Review Calls for Effective Communication in Evolutionary Genomics Studies (March 2012)
Printable Fact Sheets
- Environmental Diseases: Environmental Diseases From A to Z (English) (4MB)
- Genetic Variation and Gene Environment Interaction in Human Health and Disease (231KB)
- Linking Early Environmental Exposures to Adult Diseases (425KB)
- Genes, Behavior, the Environment, and Health For over 100 years, NIH has supported biomedical research to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. Read the stories of research discovery, current treatment status, and future expectations for the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting the nation's health.
- Genes: What We Knew, Know, and Hope to Learn For over 100 years, NIH has supported biomedical research to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. Read the stories of research discovery, current treatment status, and future expectations for the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting the nation's health.
- Household Products Database Search the Household Products Database of the National Library of Medicine, which links over 16,000 consumer brands to health effects from Safety Data Sheets.
- Human Genome Project For over 100 years, NIH has supported biomedical research to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. Read the stories of research discovery, current treatment status, and future expectations for the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting the nation's health.
Related Health Topics
- You and Your Genes - Making it in a Tough Environment (341KB) A booklet for students on genes and the environment.