Baby’s Cells Can Manipulate Mom’s Body for Decades
by Viviane Callier/Smithsonian.com
Mothers around the world say they feel like their children are still a part of them long after they’ve given birth. As it turns out, that is literally true. During pregnancy, cells from the fetus cross the placenta and enter the mother’s body, where they can become part of her tissues.
This cellular invasion means that mothers carry unique genetic material from their children’s bodies, creating what biologists call a microchimera, named after the legendary beasts made of different animals. The phenomenon is widespread among mammals, and scientists have proposed a number of theories for how it affects the mother, from better wound healing to higher risk of cancer.
Now a team of biologists argues that to really understand what microchimerism does to moms, we need to figure out why it evolved in the first place.
“What we are hoping to do is not only provide an evolutionary framework for understanding how and why microchimerism came to be, but also to assess how this affects health,” says lead author Amy Boddy, a geneticist at Arizona State University.