Protein shield protects embryos, according to a report in Nature, vol 414, p xi, 8 November 2001.

A protein named FasL on the surface of cells prevents white blood cells from killing the cells. Embryos need this protection because they have molecules on their surfaces that they inherited from their fathers as well as from their mothers. If the father’s surface molecules were different from the mother’s (they nearly always are) the mother’s immune cells would treat the embryo as a dangerous foreign invader and kill it if something didn’t stop them. Embryonic tissue and the tissue that lines the uterus (womb) both make a hormone called corticotrophin releasing hormone which stimulates cells to make FasL on their surface.

Editorial Comment: The fact that embryos need this protection from their mother’s immune system is an excellent reminder that a developing embryo is a separate and unique individual, even though it is living within its mother’s body. As such, a developing embryo should never be regarded as a piece of tissue that can be disposed of if its existence is inconvenient for someone else.

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