New research shows that genes from both parents can compete for nutrients in the growing of a fetus.
Scientists have found that the proverbial ‘battle of the sexes’ begins before birth, with “greedy” genes inherited from the father competing with those from the mother over how much nutrition a fetus should receive.
Researchers discovered that the development of a cellular immune system is linked to a variety of factors, including its ability to regulate blood sugar levels. “tug of war”It takes place in between the genes of either parent during the pregnancy, once the foetus has sent a hormone signal called IGF2 to communicate its desire for additional nutrients.
This study examined why certain babies have difficulty growing properly after birth. Between 10% and 15% of babies experience poor growth in the womb. The researchers used genetically engineered mice – which are biologically similar to humans.
Researchers discovered that IGF2 signals are triggered by paternal genes. They expand blood vessels in placentas to boost nutrient intake. The mother’s genes try to stop this growth.
Too much IGF2 leads to excessive growth, while too little (caused by a dominance of the maternal gene) is linked to too little growth – but both extremes are associated with health complications.
“One theory about imprinted genes is that paternally-expressed genes are greedy and selfish. They are determined to obtain the maximum resources possible from the mother. But maternally-expressed genes act as countermeasures to balance these demands,” the study’s lead author, Miguel Constancia, said.
The father’s gene drives the fetus’s demands for larger blood vessels and more nutrients, while the mother’s gene in the placenta tries to control how much nourishment she provides. There’s a tug-of-war taking place, a battle of the sexes at the level of the genome.
The researchers claim that competition in this area is actually beneficial as the genes balance one another and make sure that the baby receives proper nutrition.
Their findings, the team stated, will improve our understanding of how mother and fetus communicate during pregnancy. These findings could open the door to novel ways to measure IGF2 levels in the fetus, and allow for the development of medication that can normalize them.
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