Monthly Archives: July 2017

George C. Williams Prize awarded to 3 CISoR members

Congratulations go to three CISoR members from the School of Anthropology and Conservation, who were recently awarded the prestigous George C. Williams Prize, from the International Society for Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.

The prize was awarded to Sarah Myers, Dr Oskar Burger and Dr Sarah Johns for their paper entitled “Postnatal depression and reproductive success in modern, low-fertility contexts“.

Further details of the award scheme can be found here.


Chimpanzees modify grooming behavior when near higher ranking members

Research by Dr Nicholas Newton-Fisher from the University of Kent has found chimpanzees modify their interactions with other chimpanzees if higher ranking members of their community are nearby.

Dr Newton-Fisher, based in the School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC), and Stefano Kaburu, from the Department of Population Health and Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, UC Davis, University of California and formerly of SAC, observed grooming interactions between members of a community of chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest Reserve in Western Uganda.

Grooming plays a key role in chimp interactions as it helps reduce stress and remove parasites. Within chimp groups lower ranking members often groom higher ranking members in the hope of receiving benefits such as protection, acceptance and the hope of receiving reciprocal grooming.

However, Dr Newton-Fisher’s findings suggest that if another chimpanzee with a higher rank than the chimp being groomed is nearby, the grooming chimp will stop far sooner than if not.

It appears chimpanzees do this so they do not invest too much time grooming with one chimp if there is a risk the chimp being groomed will not reciprocate but instead look to groom the nearby higher-ranking chimp.

This echoes prior research by Dr Newton-Fisher which found that if a larger number of other chimpanzees are nearby then, regardless of rank, the grooming chimp would usually stop grooming sooner than if there were no other chimps nearby, or a small number.

However, this latest research focused on a group with a more defined social hierarchy, so it was the rank of the nearby chimps that was of more concern to those grooming, rather than the number of others nearby.

Taken together the findings challenge the ‘relationship model’ theory that, like other primates, chimps engage in grooming on the basis of prior social interactions.

Instead it appears they are motivated by the circumstances in which they engage in the grooming and the possible benefits they will derive, giving weight to the more economic-orientated ‘biological markets’ theory of primate social interactions.

The research has been published in the latest edition of Animal Behaviour titled Grooming decisions under structural despotism: the impact of social rank and bystanders among wild male chimpanzees.

Study of premature babies has implications for future treatment

Research carried out by the University of Kent with doctors on the neonatal unit at the William Harvey Hospital and Brunel University have provided further insight into the biology of premature birth, with findings that may have implications for treating premature babies.

The results of the research are now published in an article entitled Preterm infants have significantly longer telomeres than their term born counterparts in PLOS One.

The team from the School of Biosciences led by Professor Darren Griffin set out to look for a genetic marker that might identify “at risk” children early in life so that they could embark on monitoring and treatment at an earlier opportunity.

Focusing on the telomeres – the caps at the end of the chromosomes that degrade as people age, they compared the length of telomeres in premature babies compared to babies born at the expected time.

Three groups of infants were studied:

1. 25 babies who were born prematurely (but were assayed at the time they should have been born)

2. 22 premature babies sampled at birth

3. 31 babies (sampled at birth) born at the expected time.

The expectation was that the first group would, genetically, appear more “aged” i.e. have shorter telomeres than the others. The findings were somewhat of a surprise in that, although there was some evidence of telomeres shortening over time in the premature babies, it was the normally born ones that had the shortest telomeres of all.

These results suggest that other, as yet undiscovered, factors may influence telomere length in premature infants and raises the intriguing idea that telomere shortening rate may be influenced by the degree of prematurity of the baby.

In any event, identification of genetic differences between premature and term-born infants may identify those at most risk and hence at greater need of treatment to mitigate problems that could occur later in life.

There are well-established problems associated with premature birth including respiratory, learning and developmental disorders, as well as the more recently discovered problems inlcuding hypertension, insulin resistance and altered body fat distribution. These latter problems may suggest early ageing in premature babies.

Studies suggest that these may persist into adult life, essentially mimicking early ageing and also posing a significant public health concern.


Preterm infants have significantly longer telomeres than their term born counterparts by Vimal Vasu, Kara Turner, Shermi George, John Greenall, Predrag Slijepcevic and Darren Griffin is published in in PLOS One.

Doctors, Conscience and Abortion Law and Practice

This event, held on 29 June 2017, brought together academics from a range of disciplines, graduate students, providers of abortion services and campaigners, to discuss abortion law and changes in abortion practice. The event was part of dissemination work for a Kent University Faculty of Social Sciences Research Fund Award, given to Ellie Lee and Sally Sheldon, for a project ‘Abortion Doctors, Professional Identity and the Law’.


Dr Ellie Lee

With a backdrop of the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, and a vote at the British Medical Association Annual Conference two days previously to support the decriminalisation of abortion, participants at the event discussed: the history of the British Abortion Law; research about the motivations and experience of doctors who ‘do’, that is those who provide abortion; and research about those who ‘don’t’, with a focus on conscientious objection.

Participants were particularly privileged, at the start of the event, to hear from Malcolm Potts, a pioneer of abortion provision and law reform in Britain, and from US colleagues Dr Lori Freedman and Professor Wendy Chavkin.

Thanks to Kent Law School and British Pregnancy Advisory Service for their financial support for the event.


More about the event here:


Key Findings Document: ‘Doctors Who Provide Abortion: Their Values and Professional Identity’


Published work by presenters

Potts, M. and Campbell, M. ‘History of Contraception’

Sheldon, S. ‘British Abortion Law’

Greasley, K. ‘Arguments About Abortion’

Bristow, J. ‘The Sociology of Generations’

Freedman, L. (with Weitz and Kimport) ‘The Stratified Legitimacy of Abortions’

Lee, E. ‘Constructing Abortion as a Social Problem’

Lohr, P. (with Fjerstad, De Silva and Lyus) ‘Abortion’

Chavkin, W. (with Swedlow and Fifield) ‘Regulation of Conscientious Objection to Abortion’

Neal, M. (with Fovargue) ‘‘In Good Conscience’: Conscience-based exemptions and proper medical treatment’

Mishtal, J. (with de Zordo and Anton) ‘A Fragmented Landscape’

Furedi, A. ‘The Moral Case for Abortion’