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
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.
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.
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.
The research team is studying the action of imprinted genes.