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Human and Male Seahorse Pregnancies are Surprisingly Similar

Sep 02, 2015 04:33 PM EDT
Pregnant Male Seahorse
Pregnancies in male seahorses were found to be similar to human pregnancies.
(Photo : Flickr: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner)

New research sheds light on how male seahorses, which carry the pregnancy in their species, nurture their embryos during the 24-day gestation period. A recent study conducted by the University of Sydney (USYD) explains that these males are more than just pouch providers and actually play as great of a role as many female mammals do during their pregnancies.

"Surprisingly, seahorse dads do a lot of the same things human mums do," Dr. Camilla Whittington, co-author from USYD's School of Biological Sciences, said in a news release. "Seahorse babies get a lot of nutrients via the egg yolk provided by their mothers, but the pouch of the fathers has also evolved to meet the complex challenges of providing additional nutrients and immunological protection, and ensuring gas exchange and waste removal."

According to the release, the researchers took samples from seahorse pouches in order to examine how the gene expression changed throughout the course of their pregnancy. That is, they looked at how genes switched on and off during the pregnancy. They found that male seahorses' gene expression was similar to that of humans during pregnancy. They also discovered that the male seahorses deliver vital energy-rich lipids, and calcium nutrients to their embryos.

"Regardless of your species, pregnancy presents a number of complex challenges, like ensuring you can provide oxygen and nutrients to your embryos. We have evolved independently to meet these challenges, but our research suggests that even distantly related animals use similar genes to manage pregnancy and produce healthy offspring," the researchers said.

Further research is needed to see if the evolution of animal pregnancies across all species is more similar than previously thought.

Their research was recently published in Molecular Biology and Evolution

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