previously unidentified protein has been discovered by scientists and is found to aid the fusion of sperm cells with eggs.
The new protein is called MAIA, named after the Greek goddess of motherhood. The discovery is a promising find that could prove crucial in fertility treatments.
Infertility is a problem that many encounter, and what makes this condition difficult to treat is the lack of proper identification of underlying causes.
“Infertility is unexplained in more than half of those who struggle to conceive naturally. What we know about fertility in humans has been severely limited by ethical concerns and the lack of eggs for research,” lead author Professor Harry Moore from the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences, said.
In a study, published in the journal Science Advances, the research team employed an innovative approach to conducting their experiment. Thousands of beads, mimicking eggs, were incubated with sperms. Each bead has a single protein, called a peptide, attached to its surface for the sperm to latch on it.
After incubation, it was observed that only a few beads had sperms bonded to them. The scientists then performed a series of tedious and painstaking procedures to remove unattached beads.
The beads with attached sperms were examined and these were found to contain the protein, MAIA, present on their surfaces.
The study was a collaboration of an international team of researchers spearheaded by the University of Sheffield, England.
“The ingenious artificial fertilization technique which enabled us to identify the MAIA protein will not only allow scientists to better understand the mechanisms of human fertility but will pave the way for novel ways to treat infertility and revolutionize the design of future contraceptives,” Moore said.
The gene responsible for the protein MAIA was introduced into human culture cells. The cells attracted sperms in the same way one would expect during the natural fertilization process.
After the success of this study, researchers now plan to find a difference, if any, that exists in the way sperms from different individuals bind to the protein MAIA.
According to the study’s co-author, Professor Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield, the discovery of this new protein is crucial in the understanding of the process of human fertilization among researchers.
“It would have been almost impossible to discover without the use of artificial beads to replicate the surface of human eggs as we simply wouldn’t have been able to get enough eggs to do the experiment. A classic case of thinking out of the box,” Pacey said.