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Pregnancy is a genetic battlefield – how conflicts of interest pit mom’s and dad’s genes against each other

Genetic conflict may play a role in pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, as well as developmental disorders.



Paternal and maternal genes drive fetal development in different directions. Valentina Kruchinina/iStock via Getty Images

Baby showers. Babymoons. Baby-arrival parties. There are many opportunities to celebrate the 40-week transition to parenthood. Often, these celebrations implicitly assume that pregnancy is cooperative and mutually beneficial to both the parent and the fetus. But this belief obscures a more interesting truth about pregnancy – the mother and the fetus may not be peacefully coexisting in the same body at all.

At the most fundamental level, there is a conflict between the interests of the parent and fetus. While this may sound like the beginning of a thriller, this genetic conflict is a normal part of pregnancy, leading to typical growth and development both during pregnancy and across an individual’s lifetime – something my research focuses on.

However, even though genetic conflict is normal during pregnancy, it can play a role in pregnancy complications and developmental disorders when left unchecked.

What is genetic conflict?

Pregnancy is generally thought of as a period when a new individual is created from a unified blend of genes from their parents. But this is not quite right.

The genes a fetus gets from each parent carry slightly different instructions for development. This means there are contrasting and sometimes conflicting blueprints for how to build the new individual. Conflict over which blueprint to follow for fetal growth and development is the essence of the genetic conflict that occurs during pregnancy.

Moms have to use their bodies to help the fetus grow during pregnancy while dads don’t. This means that the genes the fetus inherits from mom have to not only provide for the current fetus, but also try to keep mom alive and healthy and make sure there are resources left over for a potential future pregnancy. These reserves include both biological resources like glucose, protein, iron and calcium, as well as the time and energy needed to help her children after birth as they grow and develop.

Dad’s genes don’t have this same pressure because they don’t use their bodies to help the fetus grow during pregnancy. A dad’s genes, then, don’t need to ensure that anyone other than the current fetus thrives.

Pregnancy transforms every organ in the body.

To better understand this situation, pretend that all of the resources a mom can give her children come in the form of a milkshake. Once the milkshake runs out, mom has nothing left to give her children. Maternal genes, therefore, want each child to drink only as much as they need to grow and develop. This ensures that the milkshake can be “shared” across all current and future children.

Paternal genes, on the other hand, have no such guarantee of representation in this mother’s other children – the father of the current child may not be the father of the mother’s potential future children. This lack of guaranteed genetic representation means there is no pressure on the father to “share” the milkshake. The best strategy when it comes to paternal genes, then, is for the fetus to drink as much of the milkshake as they can.

These two strategies play a figurative game of tug of war throughout pregnancy. Both sides are trying to pull fetal development slightly more toward their side. Paternal genes encourage the fetus to grow and develop quickly and take more resources, while maternal genes encourage the fetus to grow and use only what’s necessary for proper development. Conflict over how deeply the embryo implants in the uterus and how quickly the placenta and fetus grow are just a few areas where researchers have documented this tug of war during pregnancy.

The milkshake problem helps researchers determine where to look for genetic conflict by simplifying where trade-offs may take place during pregnancy. Because fetal growth is at the heart of genetic conflict, researchers have focused on processes where conflict over resource transfers from mother to fetus can be observed. These investigations have found that the placenta, a fetal organ responsible for all resource transfers during pregnancy, is dominated by paternally-expressed genes. It releases paternally-derived insulin-like growth factors that make mom less sensitive to her own insulin and hormones that increase maternal blood pressure, both of which ultimately increase the amount of resources the fetus can use to grow during pregnancy but have the potential to harm the mother’s health.

Genetic conflict and pregnancy complications

If genetic conflict goes uncontrolled, it can cause pregnancy complications for the mother and developmental disorders for the child. In fact, there is a growing consensus among researchers that some of the most well-known pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, miscarriages and preterm births may best be explained by unchecked genetic conflict.

Despite the potential role that genetic conflict plays in pregnancy complications, current medical treatments are reactive rather than proactive. A pregnant person must show signs of experiencing complications before medical interventions and treatments can take place.

Knowing how unchecked genetic conflict contributes to pregnancy complications could provide researchers another way to develop treatments that are proactive and, ideally, preventive. However, there are currently no treatments for pregnancy complications that consider genetic conflict. Though gestational diabetes can be attributed to underlying genetic conflict, a pregnant person must present with elevated blood sugar levels before doctors can treat underlying conflict over insulin production and blood sugar.

Pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for many.

The experiences of pregnant people during the COVID-19 pandemic provide an example of why more research on genetic conflict is needed. During the pandemic, doctors saw both a dramatic decrease in the number of preterm births as well as an increase in the number of stillbirths and miscarriages. Both types of complications are influenced by genetic conflict, but the reasons behind these opposing trends are unclear.

As a woman who was pregnant early in the pandemic, my pregnancy was scary and stressful, spent at home away from the pressures of “normal” life. More research on the complex process of pregnancy and genetic conflict’s role in complications could help researchers better understand how the changes brought by the pandemic produced such wildly different pregnancy outcomes.

Jessica D. Ayers does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Stay Ahead of GDP: 3 Charts to Become a Smarter Trader

When concerns of a recession are front and center, investors tend to pay more attention to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report. The Q4 2022 GDP report…



When concerns of a recession are front and center, investors tend to pay more attention to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report. The Q4 2022 GDP report showed the U.S. economy grew by 2.9% in the quarter, and Wall Street wasn't disappointed. The day the report was released, the market closed higher, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($DJIA) up 0.61%, the S&P 500 index ($SPX) up 1.1%, and the Nasdaq Composite ($COMPQ) up 1.76%. Consumer Discretionary, Technology, and Energy were the top-performing S&P sectors.

Add to the GDP report strong earnings from Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) and a mega announcement from Chevron Corp. (CVX)—raising dividends and a $75 billion buyback round—and you get a strong day in the stock markets.

Why is the GDP Report Important?

If a country's GDP is growing faster than expected, it could be a positive indication of economic strength. It means that consumer spending, business investment, and exports, among other factors, are going strong. But the GDP is just one indicator, and one indicator doesn't necessarily tell the whole story. It's a good idea to look at other indicators, such as the unemployment rate, inflation, and consumer sentiment, before making a conclusion.

Inflation appears to be cooling, but the labor market continues to be strong. The Fed has stated in many of its previous meetings that it'll be closely watching the labor market. So that'll be a sticky point as we get close to the next Fed meeting. Consumer spending is also strong, according to the GDP report. But that could have been because of increased auto sales and spending on services such as health care, personal care, and utilities. Retail sales released earlier in January indicated that holiday sales were lower.

There's a chance we could see retail sales slowing in Q1 2023 as some households run out of savings that were accumulated during the pandemic. This is something to keep an eye on going forward, as a slowdown in retail sales could mean increases in inventories. And this is something that could decrease economic activity.

Overall, the recent GDP report indicates the U.S. economy is strong, although some economists feel we'll probably see some downside in 2023, though not a recession. But the one drawback of the GDP report is that it's lagging. It comes out after the fact. Wouldn't it be great if you had known this ahead of time so you could position your trades to take advantage of the rally? While there's no way to know with 100% accuracy, there are ways to identify probable events.

3 Ways To Stay Ahead of the Curve

Instead of waiting for three months to get next quarter's GDP report, you can gauge the potential strength or weakness of the overall U.S. economy. Steven Sears, in his book The Indomitable Investor, suggested looking at these charts:

  • Copper prices
  • High-yield corporate bonds
  • Small-cap stocks

Copper: An Economic Indicator

You may not hear much about copper, but it's used in the manufacture of several goods and in construction. Given that manufacturing and construction make up a big chunk of economic activity, the red metal is more important than you may have thought. If you look at the chart of copper futures ($COPPER) you'll see that, in October 2022, the price of copper was trading sideways, but, in November, its price rose and trended quite a bit higher. This would have been an indication of a strengthening economy.

CHART 1: COPPER CONTINUOUS FUTURES CONTRACTS. Copper prices have been rising since November 2022. Chart source: For illustrative purposes only.

High-Yield Bonds: Risk On Indicator

The higher the risk, the higher the yield. That's the premise behind high-yield bonds. In short, companies that are leveraged, smaller, or just starting to grow may not have the solid balance sheets that more established companies are likely to have. If the economy slows down, investors are likely to sell the high-yield bonds and pick up the safer U.S. Treasury bonds.

Why the flight to safety? It's because when the economy is sluggish, the companies that issue the high-yield bonds tend to find it difficult to service their debts. When the economy is expanding, the opposite happens—they tend to perform better.

The chart below of the Dow Jones Corporate Bond Index ($DJCB) shows that, since the end of October 2022, the index trended higher. Similar to copper prices, high-yield corporate bond activity was also indicating economic expansion. You'll see similar action in charts of high-yield bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) such as iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (HYG) and SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond ETF (JNK).

CHART 2: HIGH-YIELD BONDS TRENDING HIGHER. The Dow Jones Corporate Bond Index ($DJCB) has been trending higher since end of October 2022.Chart source: For illustrative purposes only.

Small-Cap Stocks: They're Sensitive

Pull up a chart of the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) and you'll see similar price action (see chart 3). Since mid-October, small-cap stocks (the Russell 2000 index is made up of 2000 small companies) have been moving higher.

CHART 3: SMALL-CAP STOCKS TRENDING HIGHER. When the economy is expanding, small-cap stocks trend higher.Chart source: For illustrative purposes only.

Three's Company

If all three of these indicators are showing strength, you can expect the GDP number to be strong. There are times when the GDP number may not impact the markets, but, when inflation is a problem and the Fed is trying to curb it by raising interest rates, the GDP number tends to impact the markets.

This scenario is likely to play out in 2023, so it would be worth your while to set up a GDP Tracker ChartList. Want a live link to the charts used in this article? They're all right here.

Jayanthi Gopalakrishnan

Director, Site Content


Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice. The ideas and strategies should never be used without first assessing your own personal and financial situation, or without consulting a financial professional.

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Hotels: Occupancy Rate Down 6.2% Compared to Same Week in 2019

From CoStar: STR: MLK Day Leads to Slightly Lower US Weekly Hotel PerformanceWith the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, U.S. hotel performance came in slightly lower than the previous week, according to STR‘s latest data through Jan. 21.Jan. 15-21, 2023 …



With the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, U.S. hotel performance came in slightly lower than the previous week, according to STR‘s latest data through Jan. 21.

Jan. 15-21, 2023 (percentage change from comparable week in 2019*):

Occupancy: 54.2% (-6.2%)
• Average daily rate (ADR): $140.16 (+11.3%)
• evenue per available room (RevPAR): $75.97 (+4.4%)

*Due to the pandemic impact, STR is measuring recovery against comparable time periods from 2019. Year-over-year comparisons will once again become standard after Q1.
emphasis added
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four-week average.

Click on graph for larger image.

The red line is for 2023, black is 2020, blue is the median, and dashed light blue is for 2022.  Dashed purple is 2019 (STR is comparing to a strong year for hotels).

The 4-week average of the occupancy rate is below the median rate for the previous 20 years (Blue), but this is the slow season - and some of the early year weakness might be related to the timing of the report.

Note: Y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the seasonal change.

The 4-week average of the occupancy rate will increase seasonally over the next few months.

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American Express Numbers Show What Still Gets People to Spend Money

American Express stock jumped nearly 12% since earnings dropped.



American Express stock jumped nearly 12% since earnings dropped.

Even though American Express  (AXP) - Get Free Report earnings announced Friday afternoon fell somewhat short of expectations for the quarter, shares still soared to highs unseen for many months due to a number of strong metrics -- quarterly revenue growth of 17%, plans to raise its dividend by 15% from 52 to 60 cents and an annual revenue that surpassed $50 billion for the first time ever.

At $52.9 billion, the latter is driven primarily by an increase in quarterly member spending. Last year, that number was at $42.4 billion. 

According to American Express Chairman and CEO Stephen J. Squeri, the increase can be attributed to higher numbers of millennials gaining in earning power and using their AmEx above other cards to tap into rewards as many approach milestones like marriage, career advancement, and homeownership.

"Millennial and Gen Z customers continue to be the largest drivers of our growth, representing over 60% of proprietary consumer card acquisitions in the quarter and for the full year," Squeri said in an earnings call discussing the results.

People Are Using Their AmEx Cards a Lot

The $52.9 billion number is up 25% from what was seen last quarter and reflects a number of different factors also having to do with post-pandemic spending.

"We ended 2022 with record revenues, which grew 25% from a year earlier, and earnings per share of $9.85, both well above the guidance that we provided when we introduced our long-term growth plan at the start of last year, despite a mixed economic environment," Squeri said.

AmEx further reported that 12.5 million new members signed up for cards in 2022 while existing members used their cards frequently. Fourth-quarter sales at AmEx's U.S. consumer services and commercial segments rose by a respective 23% and 15%.

But higher expenses also led to falling below analyst expectations. The fourth-quarter income of $1.57 billion, or $2.07 a share, is down from $1.72 billion ($2.18 a share) in the fourth quarter of 2021. FactSet analysts had predicted $2.23 a share.

"I'm not sure what that's really a function of right now -- whether it's a function of the economy or of confusion on where to advertise right now," Squeri told Yahoo Finance in reference to lower spending on the part of small business and digital advertisers. "We're going to watch that, but the consumer is really strong, travel bookings are up over 50% vs pre-pandemic."


It's a Good Time to Be Tracking Credit Card Companies

Immediately after the earnings dropped, AmEx stock started soaring and was up nearly 12% at $175.24 on Friday afternoon. This is a high unseen in months -- the last peak occurred when, on September 12, shares were at $162.45. 

Whether due to or despite analyst threats of a looming recession, people have been using their credit cards very actively throughout the end of 2022.

When it posted its earnings earlier this week, Mastercard  (MA) - Get Free Report surpassed Wall Street expectations of $5.8 billion and $2.65 per share in fourth-quarter earnings. Visa  (V) - Get Free Report also saw revenue rise 11.8% to $7.94 billion in the same quarter. The numbers also reflect higher numbers of people traveling and using their credit cards in different countries.

"Visa's performance in the first quarter of 2023 reflects stable domestic volumes and transactions and a continued recovery of cross-border travel," outgoing CEO Al Kelly said of the results during a call with financial analysts.

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