The Genetic Link

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Article by: Katherine Lawless

Dr. Marcela Brocco, grant program recipient, and her team from Argentina are using saliva to learn how prenatal stress impacts infant development.


The Developing Economies Grant Program was launched to foster innovative and novel proposals for the use of DNA Genotek’s DNA sample collection kits for human genetics and microbiome research in developing countries. The recipient of the award went to Dr. Marcela Brocco for her research focused on human genomics. We had the chance to chat with Dr. Marcela Brocco, based at the University of San Martin – CONICET, Buenos Aires, Argentina about her team’s progress of their ongoing study enabled by the Developing Economies Grant Program.  

Her team’s research focuses on prenatal stress (PS) and how it impacts early behavioral and cognitive development in human infants. They hypothesize that epigenetic modifications in the brain might be mirrored in salivary DNA which would represent a reliable, non-invasive source to profile epigenetic alterations. Their objective is to develop early biomarkers to detect PS-induced epigenetic reprogramming of the infant's brain.  

From participating mothers, hair samples were collected to measure cortisol levels and following delivery, saliva samples were collected from the infants using ORAcollect® for Pediatrics (OC-175).  

[The collection process] was fantastic. The nurses [at the hospital] were willing to collaborate with us, and they were very enthusiastic because they were part of the research project which was not usual for them. They were very key to the project because they had to convince the [pregnant] moms to take part in the project... the mothers were also more willing because we were collecting saliva from their infants [instead of blood]. - Dr. Marcela Brocco  

Dr. Marcela Brocco and her team sent all the samples to a lab in Germany to be processed by her colleague Dr. Marta Antonelli and her team. The downstream applications, however, are still ongoing for the study by Dr. Marta Antonelli and her team.  

We were able to obtain good yields of DNA and it was great! All epigenetic analysis after the DNA isolation had no problems and we were able to use all the samples, including a few that had lower yields... Dr. Marta’s lab student in Germany used [DNA Genotek’s purification reagent] prepIT•L2P to purify the saliva samples, it was her first time using it, and she was able to obtain DNA easily with no issues.- Dr. Marcela Brocco 

Check out Dr. Marcela Brocco and her team’s poster on the study here. 

When asked how saliva collection compared to other sample types used in past studies, Dr. Marcela Brocco explained how extracting DNA from dried blood cards is exceedingly difficult in comparison to working with a liquid saliva sample. Whereas extracting DNA from saliva using prepIT is much easier in comparison.  

Another benefit of collecting a non-invasive, pain-free saliva sample was the willingness of mothers to allow Dr. Marcela and her team to collect additional saliva samples from the infants at later time points; one month and one year after birth. They hope to continue to collect more samples and data from the infants over time.  

This grant was very important to us and[ DNAGenotek’s] collaboration with us using ORAcollect. In Argentina, there is limited funding, [on average] you can get $6100 a year for a regular grant. So, $6500 USD and free collection devices were very important to us. Many Argentinian researchers have to find funding outside of Argentina. - Dr. Marcela Brocco.  

The Developing Economies Grant Program was integral to Dr. Marcela Brocco and her team’s research, the amount of funds received meant they saved years of applying for local, Argentinian, grants.  By collaborating with Dr. Sandra Susacasa and Psychologist Ma. Aurelia Gonzáles from the Ramón Sardá maternal and child hospital and with Dr. Marta Antonelli’s lab in Germany, Dr. Brocco’s team was able to recruit over 50 infants and mothers to study how maternal stress can affect the infants' over-time. By comparing cortisol levels in the mothers and the development parameters of the babies, they were able to learn more about the effects of prenatal stress on infants. According to their recent poster, infants that were tested one month after birth had impaired motor development if their mothers experienced prenatal stress. As the team collects more data over time, they plan to perform an Epigenome-wide Association Study (EWAS) analysis of the DNA from saliva (collected using ORAcollect) to complete the study.  

Interested in applying to this year's Expand into Multiomics Grant Program?

Check out our grant page for more information on how you can apply. You can also send us an email at for more information on the grant or to request free saliva collection kits and prepIT extraction reagents.  

Request free trial kits of any DNA Genotek saliva kit



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