I read in New Scientist recently that microchimerism occurs between previously born siblings and grandparents, not just the mother.

Do we know which parts of the genome are likely to be transferred? Is it possible, given a genetic sample of relatives, to predict which genetic traits might be transferred by microchimerism?


1 Answer 1


Microchimerism, as defined by wiki, is the presence of a small number of cells in an organism that are genetically distinct, and originated from a separate organism. The example they give is an unborn child and the mother can 'swap' immune cells, and retain these for many years.

Your question about which parts of the genome are transferred is therefore not really valid, because the cells are transferred, rather than bits of genetic information. Therefore 'traits' are not transferred either, but distinct immune cell lineages can be transferred and persist - this can confer an immune advantage, so this 'trait' could be said to have transferred, but no genetic information has been swapped by the cells.

Although it does not say it on wiki, this presumably only applies to cells of the same species, but a different organism, otherwise infections would also count.

Update 20th July 2012

The New Scientist article you have linked to in the comments can be found online here.

It says that we may be more microchimeric than we imagined, because a recent study in Blood found that half of the mothers studied were positive for male T-cells (Dierselhuis, 2012). The authors note that it is remarkable that the immune cells from neither the parent or the offspring attack the other, and that this may explain the observation that siblings make better donors.

Another finding that mothers are found positive for cells from their own mothers, and even their own grandmothers, and that the cell numbers increase during pregnancy (due to clonal expansion of the inherited immune cells) reinforces the opinion that microchimerism is commonplace (Gammill, 2011).

So to reiterate, immune cells can be inherited from your mother, and she may also end up with leukocytes from her offspring, which can in turn be passed on. This is a very fascinating way in which the immune system seems even more complex and helpful.

  • $\begingroup$ This seems to be counter to what the article I read said. They indicated that genetic material from siblings and a grandparent was found in children. $\endgroup$
    – Polynomial
    Jul 17, 2012 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ In a sample of the blood it is not uncommon to find fragments of DNA. These may well be from a parent or grandparent, but the DNA (as I understand it) is 'left over' from (e.g.) an apoptosis event, rather than found in the host cells. It is also possible to find fragments of bacterial DNA in circulating blood, but this does not imply that the DNA has been incorporated into the hosts, and therefore no traits have been transferred. $\endgroup$
    – Luke
    Jul 17, 2012 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ I remember it mentioning increased risk of transfer of diseases, so I'll dig out the article tonight and post an excerpt. $\endgroup$
    – Polynomial
    Jul 17, 2012 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Polynomial I'd be interested, too. I did a fairly extensive search and only found a NS article on Marmosets from 2007. Is that the one that you found? $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Jul 18, 2012 at 3:39
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    $\begingroup$ Found the article! It's in edition #2869, on page 12. Got a jpeg of it here. $\endgroup$
    – Polynomial
    Jul 20, 2012 at 7:25

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