Human Pregnancy is Adversarial Between Mother and Fetus

Inside the uterus we have a thick layer of endometrial tissue, which contains only tiny blood vessels. The endometrium seals off our main blood supply from the newly implanted embryo. The growing placenta literally burrows through this layer, rips into arterial walls and re-wires them to channel blood straight to the hungry embryo. It delves deep into the surrounding tissues, razes them and pumps the arteries full of hormones so they expand into the space created. It paralyzes these arteries so the mother cannot even constrict them.

What this means is that the growing fetus now has direct, unrestricted access to its mother's blood supply. It can manufacture hormones and use them to manipulate her. It can, for instance, increase her blood sugar, dilate her arteries, and inflate her blood pressure to provide itself with more nutrients. And it does. Some fetal cells find their way through the placenta and into the mother's bloodstream. They will grow in her blood and organs, and even in her brain, for the rest of her life, making her a genetic chimera**.

This might seem rather disrespectful. In fact, it's sibling rivalry at its evolutionary best. You see, mother and fetus have quite distinct evolutionary interests. The mother 'wants' to dedicate approximately equal resources to all her surviving children, including possible future children, and none to those who will die. The fetus 'wants' to survive, and take as much as it can get. (The quotes are to indicate that this isn't about what they consciously want, but about what evolution tends to optimize.)

There's also a third player here – the father, whose interests align still less with the mother's because her other offspring may not be his. Through a process called genomic imprinting, certain fetal genes inherited from the father can activate in the placenta. These genes ruthlessly promote the welfare of the offspring at the mother's expense.

How did we come to acquire this ravenous hemochorial placenta which gives our fetuses and their fathers such unusual power? Whilst we can see some trend toward increasingly invasive placentae within primates, the full answer is lost in the mists of time. Uteri do not fossilize well.

The consequences, however, are clear. Normal mammalian pregnancy is a well-ordered affair because the mother is a despot. Her offspring live or die at her will; she controls their nutrient supply, and she can expel or reabsorb them any time. Human pregnancy, on the other hand, is run by committee – and not just any committee, but one whose members often have very different, competing interests and share only partial information. It's a tug-of-war that not infrequently deteriorates to a tussle and, occasionally, to outright warfare. Many potentially lethal disorders, such as ectopic pregnancy, gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia can be traced to mis-steps in this intimate game.


Folksonomies: human evolution pregnancy

/family and parenting/motherhood/pregnancy (0.587841)
/family and parenting/children (0.321855)
/health and fitness/disease/cholesterol (0.292624)

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Pregnancy (0.941821): dbpedia_resource
Fetus (0.713969): dbpedia_resource
Blood (0.624712): dbpedia_resource
Embryo (0.594510): dbpedia_resource
Uterus (0.547186): dbpedia_resource
Artery (0.472329): dbpedia_resource
Endometrium (0.457040): dbpedia_resource
Heart (0.428167): dbpedia_resource

 Why do women have periods? What is the evolutionary benefit or purpose of having periods? Why can’t women just get pregnant without the menstrual cycle?
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Sadedin, Suzanne (Nov 7, 2016), Why do women have periods? What is the evolutionary benefit or purpose of having periods? Why can’t women just get pregnant without the menstrual cycle?, Retrieved on 2018-03-20
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: human evolution pregnancy menstrual cycle


    12 JUN 2011

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