Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Clues to ancestral origin of placenta emerge in Stanford study

15.04.2008
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have uncovered the first clues about the ancient origins of a mother's intricate lifeline to her unborn baby, the placenta, which delivers oxygen and nutrients critical to the baby's health.

The evidence suggests the placenta of humans and other mammals evolved from the much simpler tissue that attached to the inside of eggshells and enabled the embryos of our distant ancestors, the birds and reptiles, to get oxygen.

"The placenta is this amazing, complex structure and it's unique to mammals, but we've had no idea what its evolutionary origins are," said Julie Baker, PhD, assistant professor of genetics. Baker is senior author of the study, which will be published in the May issue of Genome Research.

The placenta grows inside the mother's uterus and serves as a way of exchanging gas and nutrients between mother and fetus; it is expelled from the mother's body after the birth of a baby. It is the only organ to develop in adulthood and is the only one with a defined end date, Baker said, making the placenta of interest to people curious about how tissues and organs develop.

Beyond being a biological curiosity, the placenta also plays a role in the health of both the mother and the baby. Some recent research also suggests that the placenta could be a key barrier in preventing or allowing molecules to pass to the unborn baby that influence the baby's disease risk well into adulthood.

"The placenta seems to be critical for fetal health and maternal heath," Baker said. Despite its major impact, almost nothing was known about how the placenta evolved or how it functions.

Baker and Kirstin Knox, graduate student and the study's first author, began addressing the question of the placenta's evolution by determining which genes are active in cells of the placenta throughout pregnancy in mice.

They found that the placenta develops in two distinct stages. In the first stage, which runs from the beginning of pregnancy through mid-gestation, the placental cells primarily activate genes that mammals have in common with birds and reptiles. This suggests that the placenta initially evolved through repurposing genes the early mammals inherited from their immediate ancestors when they arose more than 120 million years ago.

In the second stage, cells of the mammalian placenta switch to a new wave of species-specific genes. Mice activate newly evolved mouse genes and humans activate human genes.

It makes sense that each animal would need a different set of genes, Baker said. "A pregnant orca has different needs than a mouse and so they had to come up with different hormonal solutions to solve their problems," she said. For example, an elephant's placenta nourishes a single animal for 660 days. A pregnant mouse gestates an average of 12 offspring for 20 days. Clearly, those two pregnancies would require very different placentas.

Baker said these findings are particularly interesting given that cloned mice are at high risk of dying soon after the placenta's genetic transition takes place. "There's obviously a huge regulatory change that takes place," she said. What's surprising is that despite the dramatic shift taking place in the placenta, the tissue doesn't change in appearance.

Understanding the placenta's origins and function could prove useful. Previous studies suggest the placenta may contribute to triggering the onset of maternal labor, and is suspected to be involved in a maternal condition called pre-eclampsia, which is a leading cause of premature births.

Baker intends to follow up on this work by collaborating with Theo Palmer, PhD, associate professor of neurosurgery; Gill Bejerano, PhD, assistant professor of developmental biology, and Anna Penn, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics. Together, the group hopes to learn how the placenta protects the growing brain of the unborn baby, a protection that seems to extend into adulthood.

Mitzi Baker | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://mednews.stanford.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Statistical method developed at TU Dresden allows the detection of higher order dependencies
07.02.2020 | Technische Universität Dresden

nachricht Novel study underscores microbial individuality
13.12.2019 | Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Physicist from Hannover Develops New Photon Source for Tap-proof Communication

An international team with the participation of Prof. Dr. Michael Kues from the Cluster of Excellence PhoenixD at Leibniz University Hannover has developed a new method for generating quantum-entangled photons in a spectral range of light that was previously inaccessible. The discovery can make the encryption of satellite-based communications much more secure in the future.

A 15-member research team from the UK, Germany and Japan has developed a new method for generating and detecting quantum-entangled photons at a wavelength of...

Im Focus: Junior scientists at the University of Rostock invent a funnel for light

Together with their colleagues from the University of Würzburg, physicists from the group of Professor Alexander Szameit at the University of Rostock have devised a “funnel” for photons. Their discovery was recently published in the renowned journal Science and holds great promise for novel ultra-sensitive detectors as well as innovative applications in telecommunications and information processing.

The quantum-optical properties of light and its interaction with matter has fascinated the Rostock professor Alexander Szameit since College.

Im Focus: Stem Cells and Nerves Interact in Tissue Regeneration and Cancer Progression

Researchers at the University of Zurich show that different stem cell populations are innervated in distinct ways. Innervation may therefore be crucial for proper tissue regeneration. They also demonstrate that cancer stem cells likewise establish contacts with nerves. Targeting tumour innervation could thus lead to new cancer therapies.

Stem cells can generate a variety of specific tissues and are increasingly used for clinical applications such as the replacement of bone or cartilage....

Im Focus: Artificial solid fog material creates pleasant laser light

An international research team led by Kiel University develops an extremely porous material made of "white graphene" for new laser light applications

With a porosity of 99.99 %, it consists practically only of air, making it one of the lightest materials in the world: Aerobornitride is the name of the...

Im Focus: Cross-technology communication in the Internet of Things significantly simplified

Researchers at Graz University of Technology have developed a framework by which wireless devices with different radio technologies will be able to communicate directly with each other.

Whether networked vehicles that warn of traffic jams in real time, household appliances that can be operated remotely, "wearables" that monitor physical...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“4th Hybrid Materials and Structures 2020” takes place over the internet

26.03.2020 | Event News

Most significant international Learning Analytics conference will take place – fully online

23.03.2020 | Event News

MOC2020: Fraunhofer IOF organises international micro-optics conference in Jena

03.03.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Phage capsid against influenza: Perfectly fitting inhibitor prevents viral infection

31.03.2020 | Life Sciences

A 'cardiac patch with bioink' developed to repair heart

31.03.2020 | Life Sciences

Artificial intelligence can speed up the detection of stroke

31.03.2020 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>