There is much interest is on how childhood experiences, and particularly levels of stress and support in and around the family, get “under the skin” to effect durable changes in biological systems (such as epigenetic signatures and neuroendocrine stress response systems). From a developmental programming perspective, these changes are not random; instead altered biological systems function to regulate development toward strategies that are adaptive under different conditions. That is, biological embedding of psychosocial stress and support is a central mechanism through which the developing child becomes matched to current and expected future environments. This matching process has both costs and benefits. Under stressful developmental conditions, one biological system may be diminished so that another can be preserved or enhanced. Such tradeoffs have substantial downstream implications for mental and physical health.
This developmental programming perspective is broad and requires training in such diverse areas as (a) evolutionary models of development such as life history theory and differential susceptibility; (b) assessment of psychosocial stress and support in and around the family; (c) genomic factors in development; (d) biological systems and processes such as DNA methylation, immune functioning, and stress physiology; and (e) phenotypic development such as changes in risky behavior or depression over time. This type of training is best accomplished through involvement with multiple mentors and multiple laboratories that work together in a cohesive unit. To accomplish this kind of cohesive graduate training, we have formed a group called Developmental Adaptations, Stress, and Health (DASH). This group has seven core faculty members: Daniel Adkins, Elisabeth Conradt, Sheila Crowell, Patricia Kerig, Lisa Diamond, Bruce Ellis, and Lee Raby. Although students interested in developmental programming would apply to work with one of us as their primary advisor, they would be trained in the DASH context and have the opportunity to work and collaborate across multiple laboratories and mentors. DASH faculty work together to provide relevant training experiences and publication opportunities for students.