Ancient “genomic parasites” spurred evolution of pregnancy in mammals

Science Life

Studies of Embryos by Leonardo da Vinci Studies of Embryos by Leonardo da Vinci

The evolution of biological structures and functions from existing ones, for example a forearm from a fish fin, has been studied for centuries. But how do entirely new things evolve? It’s a tricky question to answer, but Vincent Lynch, PhD, assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago, and his colleagues shed some light on this process in a new study published online today in Cell Reports.

Taking a look at the origins of pregnancy in mammals, they identified large-scale genetic changes that marked the transition from egg laying to live birth. The researchers found thousands of genes that evolved to be turned on or off in the uterus in early mammals, including many with critical functions in establishing maternal-fetal communication and suppressing the mother’s immune system so that a fetus is not attacked. What was most surprising, however, was what…

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