The intimate relationship between mother and fetus allows placental mammals to birth live offspring. 
Compared to our egg-laying ancestors, this evolutionary step affords the fetus greater protection within the mother, and has led to a dramatic expansion in brain development.

But it might surprise you to know that an ancient retrovirus was, in part, responsible for this breakthrough.  

The syncytiotrophoblast (depicted in the second panel): 

⚆ A acts as a barrier between the placenta and the maternal tissue.

⚆ Contains a protein called syncytin that allows this barrier to form, and which originated from the envelope protein of a retrovirus!

⚆ is essential to maintain a close relationship where nutrients and gases can be exchanged, whilst ensuring feto-maternal tolerance and immune suppression.

⚆is a multinucleate cell layer of fetal origin.

Thank you to 🇪🇸 Antonio García Gómez. Antonio, holds a PhD in Biochemistry and he is a scientific illustrator passionate about translating scientific messages into effective and engaging illustrations. 

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