Researchers find that studying the evolution of certain female animals can offer invaluable insight into women’s health and possible treatments. As if we needed another reason to preserve the environment, the habitats and adaptations of giraffes, sharks, and bears could offer clues on how to treat infertility or osteoporosis.
In her new study published in PNAS Nexus, Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz of UCLA and her team detail how animal adaptations could inform better women’s health. Some of these examples are right here.
Stopping and starting pregnancy
The researchers found that over 130 species of mammals, including bears and fruit bats, can temporarily pause the development of their embryos. This is called embryonic diapause, and some mammals can do this because of their unique genomes.
“Conception may not happen at the best time for a pregnancy,” said Natterson-Horowitz. “Embryonic diapause offers pregnant females the flexibility to control the timing of their offspring’s birth when faced with inadequate food or too many predators in the environment.”
Human reproduction is similar enough to these diapausing species in some cases that researchers believe they could one day mimic this adaptation. Identifying the right mechanism could help preserve embryos for in-vitro fertilization or even give a woman more control over when she gives birth.
Conception later in life
Did you know that the Greenland Shark can live up to 500 years? Did you know that it can give birth at up to 250 years? This is especially impressive next to a human fertility decline at 40. Understanding this Greenland Shark phenomenon could be a gamechanger for women who have difficulty conceiving or have undergone chemotherapy.
Maintaining tough bones
Female humans can experience osteoporosis or bone fractures due to menopause and prolonged inactivity. Hibernating species like bears, marmots, and squirrels, though, maintain their bone strength even sleeping through the winter. The biology and chemistry behind these strong-boned hibernators could drastically improve the quality of life for women at risk of osteoporosis.
Living with high blood pressure
Giraffes have the highest blood pressure of any species because of their extreme height. This is surprisingly not at all problematic when they’re pregnant and give birth. High blood pressure for pregnant humans can be dangerous for the mother and the child, as it blocks oxygen from reaching the fetus. Finding out how giraffes adapted to high blood pressure, and how to emulate it, could save the lives of future human mothers and babies. Not only that, but it could offer treatments for high blood pressure in general.