Bright Green Sperm

Infertility affects about 6.1 million people in the U.S., according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Yet scientists may have discovered a light at the end of this dark tunnel--a bright, fluorescent green light, that is. An intriguing new technique, which makes sperm glow green, is expected to aid research into infertility and solve many of its mysteries, British scientists from Oxford University revealed in the journal Biology of Reproduction.

The international team of researchers extracted a gene that manufactures a green protein in jellyfish and used it to create green sperm inside the testicles of Syrian gold hamsters. It is hoped that this technique will allow for closer examination and analysis of the many different aspects of gene function. Furthermore, it should be possible to highlight specific genes within the sperm using the jellyfish protein, and then to follow their progress.

A recent study showed that one in seven British couples have fertility problems, about 30% of them with an unknown cause. In the U.S., a 1995 National Survey of Family Growth found that 17% of women of reproductive age had had an infertility-related medical appointment at some point in the past. Additionally, 7% of married couples in which the woman was of reproductive age reported that even though they hadn't used contraception for 12 months, the woman had not become pregnant.

In the past, studying the genetic make-up of sperm cells has been a problematic affair. Although many cells of the body can be cultured and genetically modified in the lab, unfortunately the same can not be said of sperm cells because of their minute size, unusual shape and a relatively short lifespan outside of the body.

Now, by adding the fluorescent green jellyfish protein to the mid-section of the sperm--between the head and the tail, where the protein targets the mitochondria--scientists will be able to view sperm in a whole new light. And for those men who may fear to be stigmatized because of their green sperm, it's worth noting that the fluorescent protein is only visible under a particular wavelength of light under a microscope.

Ultimately, for many people hoping to start a family green sperm could hold the key to the answers they've been looking for. However, only time--and more research--will tell whether this innovative technique will actually make the leap from toying with rodent sperm to solving human fertility problems.

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Posted 10-11-2005 2:09 PM by Doug Casey
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