Seahorses are unique amongst viviparous animals, which give birth to live young, in displaying male pregnancy: once the females have laid their eggs, the doting dads, such as the Australian pot-bellied seahorse pictured, carry their young until birth. Yet despite this role-reversal, seahorse and human pregnancies have more in common than we might expect. Beyond a safe place for the young to develop, male seahorses supply their growing brood with extra nutrients, provide antibacterial molecules to protect them, and remove their waste products from the pouch, fulfilling much the same roles as a pregnant mother. The genes active in male seahorses while they carry the young are also surprisingly similar to those seen during mammal pregnancies. Finding these conserved patterns, across distantly-related species with such different lifestyles, highlights the key pathways needed to meet the fundamental challenges of gestation, which are therefore essential for successful pregnancy in humans too.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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