Parental genes do what's best for baby

Nov 29, 2006

A molecular "battle of the sexes" long considered the major driving force in a baby's development is being challenged by a new genetic theory of parental teamwork.

Biologists at The University of Manchester say the prevailing view that maternal and paternal genes compete for supremacy in their unborn offspring fails to answer some important questions relating to child development.

In fact, rather than a parental power struggle, the researchers suggest that certain offspring characteristics can only be explained by their theory of genetic cooperation.

“When we are conceived we inherit two copies of every gene – one set from our mother and one from our father,” explained Dr Jason Wolf, who led the research in Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences.

“But some genes – through a process called genomic imprinting – only use one parent’s copy; the spare copy from the other parent is silenced by a chemical stamp.”

The concept of imprinting has long puzzled scientists as it appears to undermine the natural benefits organisms gain from inheriting two sets of genes.

If one copy of a gene is damaged, for instance, then the second copy can compensate; imprinted genes lose this safeguard and so are more susceptible to disease. Errors in imprinting have also been linked to cancer and other genetic disorders.

Scientists have argued that the reason some genes only use or ‘express’ one copy is due to a conflict between paternal and maternal interests.

In the natural world, for example, males would hope to produce large offspring to give them the best chance of survival and carry on their gene line. But large offspring require greater maternal investment, so females will try to impose their genetic stamp so that smaller young are born.

“The idea that imprinting evolves because of conflict between males and females over maternal investment in their offspring has become a generally accepted truth that has remained largely unchallenged,” said Dr Wolf.

“But we have shown that selection for positive interactions between mothers and their offspring, rather than conflict, can produce the sorts of imprinting patterns we see for a lot of genes.

“For example, during placental development the maternal and offspring genomes have to work together to produce a functional placenta. By expressing the genes they get from their mothers, the offspring are more likely to show an adaptive fit with their mother’s genes; they complement each other and so work better together to produce the placenta.”

Source: University of Manchester

Explore further: New conversion process turns biomass 'waste' into lucrative chemical products (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

People finding their 'waze' to once-hidden streets

4 minutes ago

When the people whose houses hug the narrow warren of streets paralleling the busiest urban freeway in America began to see bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling by their homes a year or so ago, they were baffled.

Identity theft victims face months of hassle

14 minutes ago

As soon as Mark Kim found out his personal information was compromised in a data breach at Target last year, the 36-year-old tech worker signed up for the retailer's free credit monitoring offer so he would ...

Observers slam 'lackluster' Lima climate deal

24 minutes ago

A carbon-curbing deal struck in Lima on Sunday was a watered-down compromise where national intransigence threatened the goal of a pact to save Earth's climate system, green groups said.

Your info has been hacked. Now what do you do?

35 minutes ago

Criminals stole personal information from tens of millions of Americans in data breaches this past year. Of those affected, one in three may become victims of identity theft, according to research firm Javelin. ...

New Bond script stolen in Sony hack

38 minutes ago

An "early version" of the screenplay for the new James Bond film was the latest victim of a massive hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, its producers said in a statement on their website Sunday.

Ag-tech could change how the world eats

5 hours ago

Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world's newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming - the world's oldest industry - with an audacious agenda: to make sure there is enough ...

Recommended for you

'Hairclip' protein mechanism explained

6 hours ago

Research led by the Teichmann group on the Wellcome Genome Campus has identified a fundamental mechanism for controlling protein function. Published in the journal Science, the discovery has wide-ranging implications for bi ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.