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Does mother-fetus coevolution lead to coadaptation?

PI(s): Francisco Ubeda (Royal Holloway University of London)
Start Date: 4-Nov-2013
End Date: 10-Nov-2013
Keywords: adaptation, coevolution, evolutionary theory

Despite the general belief that mother and fetus share the same evolutionary fate and thus their interactions should be synergistic, mother and fetus interactions can be antagonistic. The reason is that, although they share genes, they are not genetically identical. Mother and fetus differ in the genetic contribution of the father to the fetus (the paternally-inherited genome). This difference may lead to the antagonistic co-evolution (conflict) of maternal and fetal genes.

The maternal control theory for the evolution of genomic imprinting focuses on the role played by maternal genes in suppressing the expression of paternally-inherited genes in the fetus. In particular, it explores how synergistic interactions between maternal genes and the maternally-inherited genes in the fetus can result in silencing of the paternally-inherited genes in the fetus. The maternal control theory results in an adaptation from the maternal perspective where genes are expressed or silenced in such a way as to increase maternal fitness.

The aim of this project is three fold. First, we will review how existing models of genomic imprinting might lead to maternal control and maternal adaptations. Second, we will synthesize existing empirical patterns in genomic imprinting with respect to whether they are suggestive of maternal control or not. Finally, we will build a framework for a new mathematical model that conceptually synthesizes maternal control theory with the main alternative theory for the evolution of genomic imprinting, the kinship theory.