Researchers from Edinburgh University have found a key gene essential for sperm development.
The discovery, published today in inst PLoS Genetics, is supported in the same journal by a second work, involving the same researchers and Scottish colleagues, that identifies genes essential for sperm development.
Research, led by the University of Edinburgh,the causes of male infertility, has shown how a gene - Katnal1 - is critical to enable sperm to mature in the testes.
If scientists can regulate the Katnal1 gene in the testes, they could prevent sperm from maturing completely, making them ineffective, without changing hormone levels.
In trials the Edinburgh-based team found male mice, which were modified so they did not have the Katnal1 gene, were all found to be infertile.
They randomly altered the genetic code of mice to see which became infertile. They then traced the mutations which led to infertility, which led them to Katnal1.
The researchers found that Katnal1 was needed to regulate a structure, known as microtubules, which forms part of the cells that support and provide nutrients to developing sperm.
The study, which was funded by the Medical Research Council, also revealed the possibility of introducing a DNA sequence that permanently blocked Katnal1 as a method of permanent sterility, which the team have dubbed “genetic vasectomy”.
The research could also help in finding treatments for cases of male infertility, when malfunction of the Katnal1 gene hampers sperm development.
Contraception in men is largely down to condoms or a vasectomy.