hungry sheep make early lambs

Sheep may help shed light on why some human births are premature. Researchers have long suspected that a mother’s nutrition plays a key role in gestation length but, until now, a link hadn’t been shown. According to a study in the April 25 Science, Frank Bloomfield of the University of Auckland in New Zealand and his colleagues have proved that female sheep who were intentionally undernourished around the time of conception carried their lambs for a shorter period of time than well-nourished sheep. Being undernourished can trigger an early surge of hormones in the fetus and lead to premature birth. The study notes: “If these findings are applicable to human pregnancy, then a focus on events around the time of conception may hold the key to prevention of one of the major causes of preterm birth.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 4/29/2003.
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