A new understanding of the way cells divide during reproduction may help explain low fertility and sterility.

A certain gene was identified by a team of experts from the University of Edinburgh that controls a vital process in the formation of a healthy fertile egg. The experts published their research in the Journal of Cell Science and received funding from the Wellcome Trust.

The gene that was discovered allows chromosomes, which are found in all cells and contain a person’s DNA, to huddle together. Scientists believe that an egg’s healthy development and fertilization is secured by this huddling of chromosomes.

The researchers analyzed hundreds of infertile fruit flies (Drosophila oocytes) for the purpose of their study. Results showed that chromosomes do not huddle together without the gene SRPK, which can be found in mammalian and human cells.

According to the team, the absence of SRPK ultimately leads to sterility and low fertility. This huddling process was also previously studied in mice, which allowed scientists to see that it is a critical process that helps eggs stay fertile.

Now that the genes involved in the huddling process have been recognized, the researchers believe they will be able to better understand the formation of fertile reproductive cells.

In order to gain more knowledge on the role the huddling of chromosomes plays, more research is necessary, the authors pointed out.

Professor Hiroyuki Ohkura, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, concluded:

“Fruit fly eggs serve as a good model to understand why sterility and low fertility arises in humans. By studying the phenomenon of chromosome clustering, shared by fruit flies and humans and identifying genes like SRPK we are gaining insights into fertility health.”

Prior studies have examined potential signs of low fertility and sterility. One report in Human Reproduction has indicated that a mother’s age at menopause may predict her daughter’s fertility. Another study, also in the same journal, found that men who have a wide range of different sperm lengths are less likely to be able to reproduce.

Written by Sarah Glynn