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Micro-chimerism: a mother’s intuition and why do men call for their mothers near death?

In collaboration with Dr. Aakila Sammy of Publett

On the 25th of May, 2020, the world was shocked by the brutal murder of George Floyd, a black American man, by four white police officers. This led to mass outrage among every creed and race and propelled the Black Lives Matter movement to new heights, even in places like Palestine, a country already drowning in peril.

While his last words were “I can’t breathe”, the transcripts revealed that he repeated several times, "Momma, I love you. Tell my kids I love them. I'm dead." As painful as it is to hear these words, especially for his mom, it's not surprising; calling out for your mom when death approaches. Many hospice nurses and soldiers recall that dying men call out for their “Mommy” or “Mama” in their last breath. Some have attributed it to its caregiver familiarity, primal instinct like calling out for your mom as a child or a Mary-Jesus connection.





George Floyd (1973-2020). Image/ Publett


We know that “the mother” is largely responsible for every life on earth, and most of them have the ability to make everything better, but what if that connection is more than something psychological or spiritual? I know, a physical connection to your mom outside the nine months of her carrying you? Like at this moment? Yes! Scientists call it micro-chimerism, and it may be able to explain why for most, the next greatest pain to losing a child is losing your mom.


Micro-chimerism originates from the Greek mythical creature “Chimera”, a monster made up of three animals; a lion, a snake and a goat. In medicine, micro-chimerism was initially described as “alien cells”, and it is simply the circulation of cells from one individual in another genetically distinct individual.


A Greek 'Chimera'. Image/ Publett


And the culprit? There are several actually; natural cases like pregnancy and breast-feeding and artificial instances like organ or blood transplant. And it goes both ways! It could be responsible for that gut feeling you get when something is wrong with your child, also known as “a mother’s intuition”. And it doesn’t stop there; it has been observed in multiplet pregnancies like twins, which may be why twins have their own intuitive connection.


So, in addition to nutrients and waste being exchanged, cells are also trafficked bi-directionally. The embryo/fetus receives cells from the mother and the mother from the fetus, and everyone coexists peacefully, sometimes spanning decades. And the burning question that might be in your mind right now is whether a biological female can have male DNA circulating in her body after carrying a male baby. Yes!



Cells are also trafficked bidirectionally. Image/ Publett


But what are the limits to this phenomenon? This answer is not clear-cut and varies among individuals and situations. Scientists have found maternal-fetal micro-chimerism is present as early as the embryo stage, and the further along, the more abundant it is. This allows non-invasive tests for genetic abnormalities or gender determination on the fetus using blood drawn from the mother.


Another situation where it varies is trauma. We might all be familiar with the fetus releasing stem cells into the mother's circulation, which comes with healing benefits to maintain the well-being of the fetal host – and these cells can be detected up to 27 years after delivery.


Even though they sound insignificant, fetal cells aren’t afraid of a challenge. Researchers have found them taking on the role of cancer immune surveillance, clustering around lung tumours in women decades after pregnancy and reducing risk of ovarian cancer in women who have later pregnancies.


Now, in the case of abortions and miscarriages, the phenomenon might come as a source of comfort, heartache or both. It is unclear how early fetal cells enter the mother’s circulation; it can be when the placenta attaches around week eight or earlier. Commercial fetal blood tests start at weeks 7-8, but this is when they are abundant enough for testing, so it might very well be earlier. So, what does it mean if you have a miscarriage or abortion before week 8? No fetal cell acquisitions? On the contrary, the trauma of the process, especially in the first trimester, causes a massive acquisition of fetal cells by the mother. It is higher in the case of abortion and even higher in surgical abortions versus chemical abortions. Although the fetus is described as having parasitic nature, this last farewell release of healing benefits to its host is nothing short of pure.


While controversy still exists around the role of maternal and fetal microchimeric cells, we still crave answers to questions like:


  • How is the phenomenon affected when the fetus carries genetic abnormalities?


  • Do fetal cells from a previous pregnancy enter the circulation of the fetus sibling in a subsequent pregnancy?


  • It might also result in psychologists reframing questions they ask their male patients; are they worried about becoming your father, or should they be more concerned about becoming their mothers?


Plus, we need more on the association between parous women and autoimmune diseases, especially in fetal Y-chromosome carriers.


Micro-chimerism is a promising and exciting area of research with much to reveal for many fields. While no concrete evidence exists, we know that these cells are resilient to stress and trauma and offer a new perspective to inter-individual bonds and intuitions. Many scientists believe that individuals are calling out to these cells in times of survival, and maybe that’s why kids call out to their moms first or men their mothers near death.


Scientia News wholeheartedly thanks Aakila Sammy, co-founder and CEO of Publett, for this fascinating piece of work on a lesser-known genetics topic of micro-chimerism. We hope you enjoyed reading this!


Follow them @Dr.Publett on Instagram and/or @Publett Limited on Linkedin for more information. 


Related article: The Y Chromosome Unveiled



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