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New protein discovered to assist conception

A new discovery by British researchers may hold the key to successful fertility treatment for the approximately 10% of couples with unexplained infertility. Researchers found that an egg’s surface is studded with a protein that is necessary for fertility. Named “Juno” after the Roman goddess of marriage and fertility, this protein “mates” with a similar protein that is on the surface of sperm at the moment of conception. Without the Juno protein, the sperm and egg aren’t able to fuse in order to create an embryo.

Researcher Gavin Wright, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said of the discovery:

“We have solved a long-standing mystery in biology by identifying the molecules displayed on all sperm and egg that must bind each other at the moment we were conceived…Without this essential interaction, fertilisation just cannot happen. We may be able to use this discovery to improve fertility treatments and develop new contraceptives.”

After an essential protein was found on the head of sperm in 2005, researchers searched for the counterpoint on the surface of female eggs. The researchers at the Sanger Institute found that mice that were unable to make the Juno protein were infertile. Although they made eggs, sperm was unable to bind to them.

The researchers believe that flaws in the Juno protein could explain why some couples are unable to have children. If this is the case, women without the Juno protein could be treated using ICSI, a form of IVF where sperm is inserted directly into the egg to facilitate conception.

Read more here.

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