SSN Seminar: Indigenous Australians and epigenetic science with Emma Kowal

SSN Seminar: Indigenous Australians and epigenetic science with Emma Kowal

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SSN seminar: "Indigenous Australians and epigenetic science: hope, hype and (missed) opportunity" with Alfred Deakin Professor Emma Kowal

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Please join us for this online seminar with Alfred Deakin Professor Emma Kowal (Deakin University), hosted by the Deakin Science & Society Network (SSN). Joining Professor Emma Kowal as discussants will be Associate Professor Stephanie Gilbert (University of Queensland) and Professor Anthony Hannan (Florey Institute).

You can join the conversation on Twitter by following us at @SSNDeakin and using the hashtag #SSNseminar.


Epigenetics is the science of gene expression. Environmental epigenetics examines the effects of exposures (such as stress and diet) on gene expression, including the effects on the developing foetus and across generations. In recent years, some Indigenous peoples across the world have shown great interest in epigenetics, particularly as a potential biological explanation for the effects of historical trauma.

This presentation draws from the findings of a three-year project funded by the Australian Research Council on the reception of epigenetics among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, conducted with colleagues Prof Megan Warin, A/Prof Maurizio Meloni, Dr Jaya Keaney and Henrietta Byrne. It presents a range of views on epigenetics from Indigenous and non-indigenous people working in Indigenous health, social work, and education. It explores our research findings through concepts of epigenetic charisma, hype, hope, and considers implications of the findings for applying emerging scientific fields to Indigenous research.


Emma Kowal is Alfred Deakin Professor of Anthropology and Deputy Director of the Alfred Deakin Institute at Deakin University. She is a cultural and medical anthropologist who previously worked as a medical doctor and public health researcher in Indigenous health in the Northern Territory before completing her PhD in 2007. Her research interests lie at the intersection of science and technology studies (STS), Indigenous studies, and anthropology. She is the current President of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and sits on the Australian Health Ethics Committee and the Health Research Impact Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Associate Professor Stephanie Gilbert (TubbaGah Wiradjuri) has predominantly worked in higher education since the 1990s bringing a high level of expertise to leadership, research and education with a key focus on Indigenous higher education. Her areas of passion and expertise encompass three key areas: critical Indigenous studies including Aboriginal/Indigenous higher education; scholarship and theoretical innovation focused upon removed children from Aboriginal families; and exploring the social work practice of Indigenous social workers and engagement with Aboriginal communities. She is currently Coordinator for Aboriginal Researcher Development in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, The University of Queensland.

Professor Anthony Hannan received his undergraduate training and PhD from the University of Sydney. He was then awarded a Nuffield Medical Fellowship at the University of Oxford, where he subsequently held other research positions before returning to Australia to establish a laboratory at the Florey Institute. He has received various fellowships and awards and is currently a Theme Leader and Laboratory Head at the Florey Institute, University of Melbourne. Prof. Hannan and colleagues provided the first demonstration in any genetic animal model that environmental stimulation can be therapeutic. This has led to new insights into gene-environment interactions in various brain disorders, including Huntington’s disease, dementia, depression, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. His laboratory at the Florey explores how genes and the environment combine via experience-dependent plasticity in the developing and dysfunctional brain. Their research includes models of brain disorders which involve cognitive and affective dysfunction, investigated at behavioural, cellular and molecular levels so as to identify pathogenic mechanisms and novel therapeutic targets. This has recently incorporated gut microbiome studies and the microbiota-gut-brain axis in preclinical models. Furthermore, in recent years his group has been exploring transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of acquired brain and behavioural traits in response to paternal environmental exposures and experience.

Watch the seminar:

The seminar will be available to stream on YouTube live. Access using the live link here


Date/time: Tuesday 12th July 2022, 10:00 - 11:30am (Australian Eastern Standard Time, GMT+10)

Q&A with the speaker to follow. To send questions/participate in the chat, you'll need to sign-in using a YouTube account.

The seminar will be recorded and available to watch on the SSN YouTube channel after the Livestream.

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