Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Genetic imprinting

Harvard evolutionary biologist David Haig has a theory about genomic imprinting:
Dr. Haig also made some predictions about the sorts of maternal defenses that have evolved. One of the most intriguing strategies he proposed was for mothers to shut down some of the genes in their own children.

This strategy takes advantage of the fact that most of the genes we carry come in pairs. We inherit one copy from our mother and one from our father. In most cases, these pairs of genes behave identically. But in the past 15 years, scientists have identified more than 70 pairs of genes in which the copy from one parent never makes a protein. In some cases, a parent's gene is silenced only in one organ.

Scientists do not fully understand this process, known as genomic imprinting. ...

In many mammal species, females tend to stay in the groups where they are born and males leave. As a result, females tend to share more genes with other members of their group than males. A conflict may emerge between maternal and paternal genes over how the members of the group should act. Maternal genes may favor behavior that benefits the group. Paternal genes may favor behavior that benefits the individual. ...

Dr. Haig has enjoyed watching his theory mature and inspire other scientists. But he has also had to cope with a fair amount of hate mail. It comes from across the political spectrum, from abortion opponents to feminists who accuse him of trying to force patriarchy into biology.

"People seem to think, 'He must have a political agenda,'" Dr. Haig said. "But I'm not talking at all about conscious behaviors. I'm just interested in these mechanisms and why they evolved."
Funny how feminists can hate the idea that a father's genes might influence his children.

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