The Evolution of the Human Placenta

The Evolution of the Human Placenta

by Michael L. Power, Jay Schulkin


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As the active interface of the most biologically intimate connection between two living organisms, a mother and her fetus, the placenta is crucial to human evolution and survival. Michael L. Power and Jay Schulkin explore the more than 100 million years of evolution that led to the human placenta and, in so doing, they help unravel the mysteries of human life's first moments.

Starting with some of the earliest events that have influenced the path of placental evolution in mammals and progressing to the specifics of the human placenta, this book examines modern gestation within an evolutionary framework. Human beings are a successful species and our numbers have increased dramatically since our earliest days on Earth. However, human fetal development is fraught with poor outcomes for both the mother and fetus that appear to be, if not unique, far more common in humans than in other mammals. High rates of early pregnancy loss, nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, preeclampsia and related maternal hypertension, and preterm birth are rare or absent in other mammals yet not unusual in humans.

Power and Schulkin explain why this apparent contradiction exists and address such topics as how the placenta regulates and coordinates the metabolism, growth, and development of both mother and fetus, the placenta’s role in protecting a fetus from the mother’s immune system, and placental diseases. In the process, they reveal the vital importance of this organ—which is composed mostly of fetal cells—for us as individuals and as a species.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781421406435
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 11/01/2012
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 3.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Michael L. Power and Jay Schulkin are researchers at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Washington, D.C. Together they authored The Evolution of Obesity, also published by Johns Hopkins.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 The History of Placental Investigations 24

2 The Evolution of Live Birth in Mammals 50

3 Comparative Mammalian Placentation 73

4 The Evolution of the Human Placenta 96

5 Sex and the Placenta 119

6 Genes, Genetic Regulation, and the Placenta 138

7 The Placenta as a Regulatory Organ 163

8 Modern Gestational Challenges 196

Conclusion 223

References 231

Index 255

What People are Saying About This

Errol R. Norwitz

"Superb, well written, and engaging—the authors effectively integrate the biology, anthropology, genetics, and history of the various discoveries."

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