The findings published online Sept. 25 in the journal Nature Genetics describe in unprecedented detail the molecular changes that allowed mammals to carry their developing young within the safety of the womb rather than laying them in nests or carrying them around in pouches.
"In the last two decades there have been dramatic changes in our understanding of how evolution works," said Gunter Wagner, the Alison Richard Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and senior author of the paper. "We used to believe that changes only took place through small mutations in our DNA that accumulated over time. But in this case we found a huge cut-and-paste operation that altered wide areas of the genome to create large-scale morphological change."
The Yale team studying the evolutionary history of pregnancy looked at cells found in the uterus associated with placental development. They compared the genetic make-up of these cells in opossums — marsupials that give birth two weeks after conception — to armadillos and humans, distantly related mammals with highly developed placentas that nurture developing fetuses for nine months.
They found more than 1500 genes that were expressed in the uterus solely in the placental mammals. Intriguingly, note the researchers, the expression of these genes in the uterus is coordinated by transposons — essentially selfish pieces of genetic material that replicate within the host genome and used to be called junk DNA.
"Transposons grow like parasites that have invaded the body, multiplying and taking up space in the genome," said Vincent J. Lynch, research scientist in EEB and lead author of the paper.
But they also activate or repress genes related to pregnancy, he said.
"These transposons are not genes that underwent small changes over long periods of time and eventually grew into their new role during pregnancy," Lynch said. "They are more like prefabricated regulatory units that install themselves into a host genome, which then recycles them to carry out entirely new functions like facilitating maternal-fetal communication" Lynch said.
Robert LeClerc and Gemma May from Yale also contributed to the research.
The work was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
Bill Hathaway | EurekAlert!
Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed
18.01.2017 | American Chemical Society
127 at one blow...
18.01.2017 | Stiftung Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Leibniz-Institut für Biodiversität der Tiere
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
18.01.2017 | Life Sciences