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Research breakthrough on male infertility
Date:5/13/2011

Around one in 20 men is infertile, but despite the best efforts of scientists, in many cases the underlying causes of infertility have remained a mystery.

New findings by a team of Australian and Swedish researchers, however, will go a long way towards explaining this mystery.

According to their research published in Science this week, a small set of genes located within the power-plants of our cells the mitochondria are crucial to unravelling the secrets of male infertility.

Most of our genes are subjected to a rigorous quality-control process that prevents harmful mutations from freely accumulating within the gene pools of most species. If nasty mutations appear, then the individuals that harbor these mutations tend to do very poorly when it comes to reproducing and surviving, and hence these mutations are kept at low levels within the general population. But while this vital screening process works well for most of our genes, it is prone to breaking down in the set of genes housed inside of the mitochondria.

Lead researcher, Dr Damian Dowling, of Monash University, Australia, explains that mitochondrial genes are unusual because they are passed only from mother to child.

"This seemingly trivial fact actually has an enormous consequence for males. It means that mutations in the mitochondria can slip through the quality control checks unnoticed and therefore build up to high levels, if these mutations are harmful in their effects on males but not on females. This is because all of the screening of mitochondrial mutations is done in females as a result of their maternal inheritance," Dr Dowling said.

Dr Dowling and research colleagues Paolo Innocenti and Ted Morrow of Uppsala University, Sweden, have presented compelling evidence for this process in action in the common fruit fly.

Their studies show that the particular set of mitochondrial genes an individual harbours has major effect
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Contact: Samantha Blair
samantha.blair@monash.edu
61-399-034-841
Monash University
Source:Eurekalert

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