Scientists thought that the placenta just passed nutrients from mother to fetus and was good for little else, other than horrifying the internet when crafted into a stuffed animal. But now researchers have found that it performs a protective function too: If the mother is starving, the placenta will feed itself to the fetus to prevent brain damage. When mice weren't fed for 24 hours in the middle of their pregnancies, scientists found that the placenta started breaking down and recycling proteins in its cells. The nutrients were passed to the fetus so hypothalamus development could continue even while the mother wasn't taking in food.
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