The placenta and the pace of life

The poor old placenta. It really doesn’t get much public attention. And yet it does a crucially important job – acting as the interface between the mother’s blood supply and that of her developing foetus.

Every molecule of glucose, oxygen and many other essential compounds consumed by the voracious offspring passes across the placenta – from the mother’s blood to the foetus’. And waste products pass back the other way to be detoxified and excreted by the mother’s organs.

Given these roles, one might be tempted to see the mammalian placenta as a discreet anatomic servant, working tirelessly, unseen and largely without thanks for the mutual good of mother and foetus. Only to be discarded or eaten after birth and spared no further thought.

And occasionally be venerated in YouTube videos with mystical soundtracks:

But such a view underrates one of the most interesting organs that ever evolved.

For one thing, the placenta varies more among mammal species than almost any other organ. And research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA provides some clarity on how this diversity evolved. Continue reading The placenta and the pace of life