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Campus Beat LogoThe cover of Nature featuring Diana Chu's groundbreaking research. The headline reads Fertility Factors

Small 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 work."

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.

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