Placenta 'key' in gestation period17th November 2010
According to the results of a new study, the placenta could play a vital part in determining how long a pregnancy lasts in mammals.
The research has linked the placenta's structure with the length of time it takes mammals to grow inside the womb.
The researchers think the structure of the placenta, combined with the size of the mammal, could be the explanation for why different mammals have varying gestation times.
While humans give birth after an average of nine months, field mice take only three weeks from conception to birth.
The placenta plays an important part in the development of a foetus, as it transfers nutrients and oxygen to the developing baby and gets rid of waste.
The research team, from Durham University, looked at 109 types of mammals. They discovered that placentas which were more complicated in structure were associated with a shorter gestation period.
Mice, dogs and leopards had complex placentas, while humans and primates had placentas with less complex structures.
"In humans, the placenta has simple finger-like branches with a relatively limited connection between the mother's tissues and those of the foetus," said Dr Isabella Capellini of Durham University, the lead author on the study.
"Whereas in leopards, the placenta forms a complex web of interconnections that create a larger surface area for the exchange of nutrients."
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