Sex reversal in reproduction helps young fish | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 26.11.2012
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Sex reversal in reproduction helps young fish

German scientists at Kiel’s Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research have found that both male and female pipefish contribute to their young’s immunity, unlike in humans.

The sex role of pipefish in reproduction is reversed, much like seahorses, which belong to the same species of fish. Females transfer eggs into the males' brood pouches.

And it is with this premise that scientists at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel examined the role that both parents play in the immunity of pipefish fry.

Using dead bacteria that was exposed to both the male and female pipefish, they found that both parents contribute antibodies to the fry. Like in other fish, the mother transfers antibodies via the eggs while the father contributes them via the placenta-like structure in his brood pouch. The brood pouch works more like the placenta in humans, which transfers antibodies to the unborn fetus.

The findings present a precedent that might prove interesting, even for human beings, according to Anna Beemelmanns who is part of the team of researchers at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel. It could also especially play a role in research on epigenetics – the study of heritable changes in gene expression caused by other changes in the underlying DNA sequence, she notes.

"It shows that epigenetic factors could also be differently inherited via the father," Beemelmanns told DW.

So, even though human sperm does not carry antibodies, it is quite possible that fathers may play a bigger role, she adds. And the study at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research may help pave the way in better understanding the role of the male in the immunity of the child.

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