Welcoming parties for the new baby and parties anticipating their arrival. There are many opportunities to celebrate 40 weeks of transition to parenthood.
These ceremonies often implicitly assume that the pregnancy is cooperative and mutually beneficial for both parents and fetus. But this belief obscures a more interesting fact about pregnancy: mother and fetus may not peacefully coexist in the same body.
At the most basic level, there is a conflict between the interests of the parents and the interests of the fetus. While this may seem like the start of an exciting story, this genetic conflict is a normal part of pregnancy, leading to typical growth and development during pregnancy and throughout an individual’s life (which is the focus of my research).
However, while genetic conflict is normal, if left unchecked it can play a role in pregnancy complications and developmental disorders.
Two Conflicting Models
Gestation is generally seen as a period when a new individual is created from a uniform mixture of its parents’ genes. But this is not entirely true.
The genes an embryo receives from each parent carry slightly different instructions for development. This means that there are contrasting and sometimes contradictory schemes of how the new individual should be constructed.
The conflict over which model to follow for fetal growth and development is at the heart of the genetic conflict that occurs during pregnancy.
Mothers must use their bodies to help the fetus develop during pregnancy, while fathers cannot. This means that the genes that the fetus inherits from the mother must not only nourish the current fetus, but also try to keep the mother alive and healthy and ensure that there are resources for a possible future pregnancy.
These reserves include biological resources such as glucose, protein, iron and calcium, as well as the time and energy needed to sustain your babies after birth as they grow and develop.
The father’s genes don’t have the same pressure because they don’t use their bodies to help the developing fetus during pregnancy. The parents’ genes, then, need not ensure that anyone other than the current embryo thrives.
To better understand this situation, imagine that all the resources a mother can give her children come in the form of milkshakes. After the milkshake was gone, Mom had nothing left to offer her children.
Therefore, the mother’s genes want each child to drink only what it needs to grow and develop. This ensures that the vibe can be “shared” among all present and future children.
On the other hand, the father’s genes are not guaranteed to be represented in the mother’s other children: the child’s current father may not be the father of the mother’s potential future children.
This lack of guaranteed genetic representation means that there is no pressure on the father to “share” the tremor. So the best strategy when it comes to the father’s genes is for the fetus to drink as much of the shake as possible.
These two strategies create a metaphorical tug of war during pregnancy. Both sides are trying to push the growing fetus further to their side.
The father’s genes encourage the fetus to grow and develop quickly and consume more resources, while the mother’s genes encourage the fetus to grow and use only what is needed for proper growth.
Disagreements over how deep the embryo implants in the uterus and how quickly the placenta and fetus grow are just some of the areas in which researchers have documented this war during pregnancy.
The concussion problem helps researchers determine where to look for genetic conflicts, simplifying where trade-offs can occur during pregnancy.
Since fetal development is central to genetic conflict, researchers have focused on processes in which conflict can be observed in the transfer of resources from mother to fetus.
These investigations found that the placenta, the embryonic organ responsible for all resource transfers during pregnancy, is dominated by genes expressed by the father.
It releases father-derived insulin-like growth factors that make the mother less sensitive to insulin and hormones that increase the mother’s blood pressure, increasing the amount of resources the fetus can use to grow during pregnancy. Maternal health.
Genetic Conflicts and Pregnancy Complications
If the genetic conflict is not controlled, it can cause pregnancy complications for the mother and disturbances in the development of the baby.
In fact, there is a growing consensus among researchers that some of the most well-known complications of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, miscarriage, and preterm birth, may be best explained by uncontrolled genetic conflict.
Despite the potential role that genetic conflict plays in pregnancy complications, current medical treatments are more reactive than proactive. Pregnant women must show signs of complications before medical interventions and treatments can be carried out.
Knowing how uncontrolled genetic conflict contributes to pregnancy complications could provide researchers with another way to develop proactive and optimal preventive treatments.
However, there are currently no treatments for pregnancy complications that take genetic incompatibilities into account.
Although gestational diabetes can be attributed to an underlying genetic conflict, a pregnant woman must have elevated blood sugar levels before doctors can address an underlying conflict surrounding insulin production and blood sugar.
The experiences of pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic provide an example of why more research on genetic conflict is needed. During the pandemic, doctors have observed a significant decrease in the number of premature births and an increase in the number of stillbirths and miscarriages.
Both types of complications are affected by genetic conflicts, but the reasons behind these opposing trends are unclear.
As a pregnant woman at the start of the pandemic, my pregnancy was scary and stressful, spending it at home, away from the stresses of a “normal” life.
More research into the complex process of pregnancy and the role of genetic conflict in complications may help researchers better understand how changes brought about by the epidemic produce different pregnancy outcomes.