Friday, May 7, 2010

Imprinted genes work differently in different sexes

One interesting conflict is between moms and dads for what resources mom should give to baby in the womb.* Mom wants to balance the baby's growth against her own health. Dad wants the carrier of his own genes to get everything. He can always go get another woman if this one dies.

One tactic moms and dads use in this conflict is passing on imprinted genes,which are genes that convince the baby's genome they should be expressed rather than the one from the other parent. Of course, we've passed out of my area of actual expertise (assuming I have one) into stuff I've read some about. Anyway, this paper presented at a conference says they found evidence that imprinted genes are involved in controlling endocrine functions in the placenta, and that these might affect a child's (or at least a mouse's) health later in life, and some of it is gender specific already.
Female offspring of obese mothers had raised blood insulin levels, whilst male offspring did not. Male offspring did have alterations in the expression of liver genes important in lipid and glucocorticoid metabolism. ...
We have data showing that gene expression and DNA methylation are sexually dimorphic in male and female placentae under normal/control conditions. Surprisingly, in stressful conditions, such as a high fat diet or low calorie diet, or maternal overweight/obesity - the male and female placentae do not use the same strategies: they use different gene pathways and networks to cope with the stress.
Does this directly lead to different outcomes? It may lead to sex-dependent differences in the outcome of programming with long lasting effects. Alternatively, it may be that metaphorically speaking males climb the mountain taking the north face while females take the south face - but they ultimately reach the same peak after using these different paths."
I have nothing profound to say about this. It's another data point in the complicated way we develop.

*Two good books about this and related issues, from an evolutionary point of view, are Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species, by Sarah Hrdy, and Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles by Robin Baker.

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