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University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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Faculty & Staff Directory

Zaneta Thayer, Ph.D.

Email: Zaneta Thayer
​​Office hours: Tuesday 5-6 p.m. or by appointment
Areas of Expertise:
Human biology, developmental plasticity, reproductive biology, evolutionary theory, inequalities in health ​​

Education & Degrees

Ph.D. Anthropology, Northwestern University, 2013
M.A. Anthropology, Northwestern University, 2010
B.A. Anthropology, Dartmouth College, 2008
B.A. Biology, Dartmouth College, 2008


I am a biological anthropologist interested in understanding how developmental exposures influence human biological variation. In order to explore these processes my current work addresses how contemporary human environments, which are largely shaped by social and political inequalities, influence a woman's biology and that of her developing fetus. Utilizing data from a birth cohort I created in Auckland, New Zealand I am investigating how maternal stress experience at multiple levels of analysis (i.e. material deprivation, interpersonal interaction and neighborhood quality) influences maternal and offspring biology, with a specific focus on stress physiology and epigenetic modifications in offspring.

In addition to continuing my work in New Zealand I am also interested in understanding environmental contributors to health disparities in the US. Through a Junior Faculty Development Fellowship with the Native Elder Research Center I am developing a project to explore how early environmental experience shapes elder health among American Indians. I also recently published a study evaluating the hypothesis that race-based differences in adverse birth outcomes are explained by skin color related differences in UV synthesis capacity. My work demonstrates that while there is an environmental gradient in adverse birth outcomes in the US, income inequality is a stronger predictor of this gradient than UV availability.

My overall research goal is to contribute findings of interest to evolutionary anthropologists as well as public health professionals. I am strongly motivated to increase public understanding of evolution, developmental plasticity and the social construction of "race."

Select Publications

In press Thayer, Z. “The vitamin D hypothesis revisited: Differences in UV exposure do not explain disparities in birth outcomes within the United States” American Journal of Epidemiology

2013 Thayer, Z., and S. Dobson. "Geographic Variation in Chin Shape Challenges the Universal Facial Attractiveness Hypothesis." PloS one 8(4): e60681.

2013 Kuzawa, C. and Z. Thayer. “Toppling typologies: Developmental plasticity and the environmental origins of human biological variation.” Rethinking Race and Science: Biology, Genes and Culture School of Advanced Research Press: 43-56.

2012 Thayer, Z., Ferranil, A., and C. Kuzawa. “Maternal cortisol disproportionately impacts fetal growth in male offspring: Evidence from the Philippines.” American Journal of Human Biology 24: 1-4.

2011 Thayer, Z. and C. Kuzawa. “The biology of embodiment: epigenetic pathways to health disparities” Epigenetics 6(7):798-803.

2011 Kuzawa, C and Z. Thayer. “The Timescales of Human Adaptation: the Role of Epigenetic Processes and Policy Implications.” Epigenomics, 3(2): 221-234.

2010 Thayer, Z. and S. Dobson. “Sexual Dimorphism in Chin Shape: Implications for Adaptive Hypotheses.”American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 143(4): 417-425. 

In press Thayer, Z. and C. Kuzawa. "Intergenerational effects of maternal experience:  Influence of SES on maternal and offspring stress physiology in New Zealand."  American Journal of Human Biology

2014  Lee, J., Fried, R, Thayer, Z., and C. Kuzawa. "Preterm delivery as a predictor of diurnal cortisol profiles in adulthood: Evidence from Cebu, Philippines." American Journal of Human Biology 26(5): 598-602

2014  Thayer, Z. “The vitamin D hypothesis revisited: Differences in UV exposure do not explain disparities in birth outcomes within the United States” American Journal of Epidemiology 179(8): 947-955.

Courses Taught

Anth 4060/5060 Evolutionary Medicine​

ANTH 6513: Graduate Core: Human Variation