Creature, Big Discovery
Biology Professor Diana Chu has identified new proteins
critical to the production of healthy sperm. Her research, the focus
of a Sept.7 cover story in the journal Nature, is shedding new light
on the causes of human male infertility, which contributes to an estimated
30 percent of reproductive failure in the U.S.
"Male fertility treatments go around the cause," Chu says.
"No one knows the molecular basis of infertility ... how the proteins
Because researching molecular causes of male infertility directly in
humans is technically difficult, Chu uses a simple model organism, the
tiny worm C. elegans. As Chu explains, the DNA of the worm's sperm is
packaged in a way that closely resembles that of human sperm. "This
species is very useful to us because its genome is completely sequenced,"
Chu says. "It does many of the same processes that we do, but the
complex process of making sperm is much simpler in worms than in humans."
Identifying the factors that regulate fertility could open new avenues
for understanding human male infertility and lead to treatments.
Funding from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development
and the National Institute of General Medical Science is helping Chu
continue her research.