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Unlocking the key to human fertility
Date:8/3/2009

Scientists at Leeds and Bradford have discovered a unique 'DNA signature' in human sperm, which may act as a key that unlocks an egg's fertility and triggers new life.

Drs David Miller and David Iles from the University of Leeds, in collaboration with Dr Martin Brinkworth at the University of Bradford, have found that sperm writes a DNA signature that can only be recognised by an egg from the same species. This enables fertilisation and may even explain how a species develops its own unique genetic identity.

Dr Iles says, "What we have discovered is a previously unrecognised DNA packaging 'signature' in mammalian sperm that may be essential for successful fertilisation of the egg and development of the embryo. We think it may also be ancient in origin."

Without the right 'key', successful fertilisation either cannot occur, or if it does, development will not proceed normally. Notably, disturbances in human sperm DNA packaging are known to cause male infertility and pregnancy failures.

This 'lock and key' mechanism has other profound implications. Not only does it explain why some otherwise healthy men produce sperm that is sterile, but it also explains how different species evolve and retain their own identity.

Says Dr Miller, "Up until now, Doctors have struggled to understand idiopathic male infertility. Our latest research offers a plausible explanation for why some sperm malfunction or fail to function correctly."

If the DNA carried by a sperm cell was unwound and stretched out, it would actually measure more than a metre in length. In order to fit all this DNA into the microscopic space within the head of the sperm cell, the DNA needs to be very tightly coiled, or packaged. The Leeds study showed that in human and mouse sperm, not all of the DNA is packaged in the same way. Whilst most of the paternal DNA is compressed in an extremely compact fashion, some is packaged less tightly.

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Contact: Dr. David Iles
d.e.iles@leeds.ac.uk
44-113-343-2890
University of Leeds
Source:Eurekalert

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