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Evolution in Health and Disease$
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Stephen C. Stearns and Jacob C. Koella

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199207466

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199207466.001.0001

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Intimate relations: Evolutionary conflicts of pregnancy and childhood

Intimate relations: Evolutionary conflicts of pregnancy and childhood

(p.65) Chapter 6 Intimate relations: Evolutionary conflicts of pregnancy and childhood
Evolution in Health and Disease

David Haig

Oxford University Press

This chapter surveys the impact of evolutionary conflicts on maternal and fetal health in pregnancy and childhood. Some adaptations that have evolved to benefit mothers may be costly to offspring and vice versa, for natural selection can act at cross-purposes on maternal and fetal genes. For example, the typical duration of lactation in our evolutionary past was suboptimal for offspring fitness. Communication between mothers and fetuses is compromised by evolutionary incentives to send misleading signals. Mothers have evolved mechanisms for testing offspring and terminating investment in offspring of low perceived quality. Offspring have evolved features that reduce their chances of failing these tests. When fetal genes manipulate maternal physiology to increase the flow of maternal blood through the placenta, pre-eclampsia may result. The unusually large fat deposits of human babies may have provided a store of structural lipids and energy, for growth and maintenance of the infant brain.

Keywords:   parent-offspring conflicts, pre-eclampsia, spontaneous abortion, infant growth, fat

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