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HSC biologist assists in study of marmosets’ multiple births

Posted on Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Marmosets have evolved to have twins, triplets or quadruplets rather than single births. Suzette Tardif, Ph.D., has been studying the animal’s multiple-birth success to gain a better understanding of how early life programming may affect the biology of long-term health.
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Marmosets have evolved to have twins, triplets or quadruplets rather than single births. Suzette Tardif, Ph.D., has been studying the animal’s multiple-birth success to gain a better understanding of how early life programming may affect the biology of long-term health. clear graphic

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Contact: Will Sansom, 210-567-2579

SAN ANTONIO (April 7, 2014) — Suzette Tardif, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading experts on marmoset biology from the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, has long been intrigued by the small non-human primate’s ability to successfully give birth to multiple babies.

At the end of 2013, Dr. Tardif was second author on a study identifying several genes that may help the marmoset to successfully deliver twins — and sometimes triplets and quadruplets.

Dr. Tardif, professor of cellular and structural biology in the School of Medicine, said the discovery of the genes by her peers at Baylor College of Medicine was exciting and “might have implications for how one would improve multiple pregnancies in humans.”

The study, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, flowed out of broader work to complete the sequencing of the marmoset genome, a process that included Dr. Tardif. This is how she came to know the Baylor researchers.

Propensity for multiple births
“As a marmoset biologist, I have for decades had questions about why and how these animals evolved to have twins rather than single babies. The marmoset has solved the problems of multiple gestations, whereas humans and other primates have problems with developing more than one baby in the uterus,” said Dr. Tardif said, also a member of the Health Science Center’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies.

Pre-programming long-term health
Why is a researcher of aging involved in studies of marmoset pregnancies? “There is a great deal of interest in the biomedical research community in the way early life programming of biology affects long-term health,” Dr. Tardif said. “Dr. Peter Nathanielsz (professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UT Health Science Center) has advanced the idea that health may be set at these early points in time.

“An intriguing thing about the marmoset is that the number of gestating fetuses seems to have an effect on the females once they become adults,” she said. “If a female is born as part of a litter of triplets, she has a higher risk of delivering stillbirths in her adult life than if she is born as part of a twin litter. Julienne Rutherford (Ph.D.), an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is one of my former graduate students, has a new National Institutes of Health grant to work on this question.”

Risk factors for later life
Dr. Tardif noted that many of the chronic diseases that have aging as a primary risk factor, such as type 2 diabetes, also have early life disturbances as a risk factor. “It is clear that there are risk factors associated with the kind of environment your mother was in when you were developing,” Dr. Tardif said. “Putting the picture together, ultimately a goal would be to address the declining of health seen in later life by improving early life conditions.”

Dr. Tardif works with marmosets at the Barshop Institute and at the Southwest National Primate Research Center at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio.

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