Even in utero, it’s Mom vs. Dad

June 9, 2014

We know that we are a product of two sets of genes, but what we may not realize is that how we turn out may be the result of an in-utero battle that pits Mom’s genes against Dad’s.

Of the tens of thousands of genes that make up the human genome, researchers have discovered that about 100 display sex-specific stamps that are critical for survival, according to an article by Paul Raeburn in Discover magazine. What puts these genes at odds, researchers believe, are the differing goals of male and female reproduction. In most mammals, females have multiple partners, and female genes have evolved with the aim of maximizing the number of offspring. In males, however, the goal is dominance — ensuring that his offspring wins. The conflicting agendas set the stage for battle.

In most instances, these warring camps balance each other out, but when the process goes awry, it can cause serious problems for the offspring, including such mental illnesses as autism and schizophrenia.

“The body is not a machine, a collection of cogs working toward one goal,” Harvard professor David Haig says. Rather, it is “more like a social entity, with internal politics and agents with competing agendas.”

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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