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Pregnant Women And Male Seahorses Are More Similar Than Previously Thought

Video by Camilla Whittington

What do pregnant women and male seahorses have in common?

Quite a lot, a University of Sydney study has found.

While the aquatic creatures don’t know the woes of squeezing a baby bump on to a packed bus or foregoing wine for nine months, research by the School of Biological Sciences shows they nurture embryos to the same extent as female mammals.

When mating, female seahorses put their eggs in a male seahorse’s pouch, where they are fertilised and grow into baby seahorses.

Co-author Dr Camilla Whittington said the research, published in Molecular Biology and Evolution today, showed this pouch was more than just a flap of skin.

“Surprisingly, seahorse dads do a lot of the same things human mums do,” Whittington said in a statement.

“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."

Whittington said she and colleagues took samples from brood pouches to complete the first RNA sequencing study across the full course of pregnancy in any animal.

A newborn Australian pot-bellied seahorse emerges from its father's pouch. RUDIE KUITER / AQUATIC PHOTOGRAPHICS

“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.”

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