Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Tuesday, September 29, 1998 Published at 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK


Genes for better mothers

The gene could determine if mothers bond with their child

BBC Correspondent Christine McGourty reports: Secret to good motherhood
A woman's aptitude for motherhood could be genetically determined by her father.

Researchers from Cambridge University say they have found a mothering gene in mice.

They investigated a gene called Mest over a period of four to five years.

They mutated the gene in a colony of mice, and found that, when the gene was defective, mothers did not look after their young properly.

BBC Science Correspondent Christine McGourty: Clue to why some women find motherhood difficult
They would not feed or clean them and were slow to retrieve them if they wandered away from the nest.

Children are thought to develop strong psychological bonds with their mothers over the first three years of their lives.

But there is a gene similar to Mest in humans and the team say this could explain why some mothers fail to bond with their babies.

[ image: The mother-baby relationship develops in the first three years]
The mother-baby relationship develops in the first three years
Professor Azim Surani, who led the research team, which said: "There is an equivalent gene in humans that shows similar characteristics."

Based on the studies with mice, he said, this would suggest that a woman with a defective gene would have similar problems with children.

Genes usually exist in two copies - one inherited from the mother and one inherited from the father.

But 'imprinted' genes such as Mest need only one copy to have an effect.

Mest is only active when inherited from the father.

Dr Surani discusses his research
Writing in the Nature Genetics journal, the Cambridge researchers say this might be nature's way of ensuring females put full effort into caring for their young.

The research team is studying the action of imprinted genes.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

25 Sep 98 | Health
Mum's the word

24 Sep 98 | Health
Single mums more likely to smoke

11 Sep 98 | Health
Mums-to-be unprepared for scan news

05 Sep 98 | Health
The lowdown on having a healthy pregnancy

24 Aug 98 | Health
Cancer alert for babies

20 Aug 98 | Health
Mother starts shaken baby support group

Internet Links

Watch - What About The Children?

UK Mums Online

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99