Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Published in 6278–6282, PNAS, April 10, 2007, vol. 104, no. 15. Copyright © 2007 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA. Used by Permission


The formation of viable genetic chimeras in mammals through the transfer of cells between siblings in utero is rare. Using microsatellite DNA markers, we show here that chimerism in marmoset (Callithrix kuhlii) twins is not limited to blood-derived hematopoietic tissues as was previously described. All somatic tissue types sampled were found to be chimeric. Notably, chimerism was demonstrated to be present in germ-line tissues, an event never before documented as naturally occurring in a primate. In fact, we found that chimeric marmosets often transmit sibling alleles acquired in utero to their own offspring. Thus, an individual that contributes gametes to an offspring is not necessarily the genetic parent of that offspring. The presence of somatic and germ-line chimerism may have influenced the evolution of the extensive paternal and alloparental care system of this taxon. Although the exact mechanisms of sociobiological change associated with chimerism have not been fully explored, we show here that chimerism alters relatedness between twins and may alter the perceived relatedness between family members, thus influencing the allocation of parental care. Consistent with this prediction, we found a significant correlation between paternal care effort and the presence of epithelial chimerism, with males carrying chimeric infants more often than nonchimeric infants. Therefore, we propose that the presence of placental chorionic fusion and the exchange of cell lines between embryos may represent a unique adaptation affecting the evolution of cooperative care in this group of primates.

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