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Researchers set gold standard for male fertility

Researchers in Leeds and the USA have developed a ‘gold standard’ for fertile sperm, in a major step towards understanding male infertility.

Senior lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology, Dr David Miller worked with colleagues in the USA to analyse genetic fingerprints from a range of sperm samples.

Sperm cells have a complex genetic fingerprint made up of components called messenger RNA (mRNA). The researchers identified around 3000 individual mRNAs for the fertile male, creating a genetic benchmark for comparisons with infertile sperm. Future analysis should identify the defective genes that contribute to infertility and show whether some of the mRNA in healthy sperm could contribute to the viability of the zygote after fertilisation.

“We now have direct evidence that sperm carry a molecular ‘fingerprint’ that can tell us a great deal about what it takes to make healthy fertile sperm, and by extension, what might be missing in infertile sperm,” said Dr Miller. “We also think these fingerprints contain a record of the whole process of sperm production, including, perhaps, clues to environmental effects that might be causing the reduction in sperm counts observed over the past few years.”

Around one in six couples experience difficulty in conceiving a child, and male fertility problems account for half of assisted reproductive techniques. However, the underlying cause of infertility is essentially unknown in about two-thirds of men who undergo infertility assessment.

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