Lab website

An ancient “battle of the sexes” is fought out in the uterus during pregnancy. This conflict, which starts when the sperm first meets the egg, is over how much of a mother’s vital resources should be invested in the growing foetus. The weapons wielded in this parental warfare over size at birth are a special class of genes called imprinted genes – these genes are marked by chemical signals, epigenetic tags, which instruct them to become active or to remain silent, depending on which parent they come from. Fathers activate genes that produce larger offspring; mothers turn on genes for smaller offspring. Miguel is interested in uncovering the tactics employed by imprinted genes in controlling foetal growth, in particular how they operate in a vital area of the placenta, where maternal and foetal blood mix and nutrients are exchanged, to control the influx of nutrients to the foetus. Miguel’s work has important medical implications given that foetal growth disorders are linked with higher death rates in newborn babies, a greater chance of mental or physical defects and a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.