Sea Snail Research Could Lead to New Treatments for Human Infertility

by Dr. Susan Daniel

Dr. Richard Zimmer at UCLA and Dr. Jeffrey Riffell at the University of Washington believe that their research into the interactions between egg and sperm in the red abalone might lead to improved treatments for infertility in humans. Red abalone are large sea snails that live in rocky areas on the ocean floor. When they spawn, the females release millions of eggs and the males discharge billions of sperm directly into the water. The scientists have found that the eggs release an amino acid called tryptophan that acts to help sperm to find and fertilize the eggs in the often turbulent ocean waters.

The same mechanism may be at work in the mammalian reproductive tract. Similar to the abalone, mammalian sperm must navigate through a fluid-filled environment to locate an egg. The fluid dynamics in an ocean environment are remarkably similar to those in the mammalian reproductive tract. To facilitate their interaction, eggs release an attractant for the sperm to follow.

Dr. Zimmer is confident that his research will make it possible to define the optimal environmental conditions in the mammalian reproductive system for contact between sperm and egg. New treatments may be developed in humans to enhance communication between the egg and sperm and modify fluid motion to make it easier for sperm to travel through the reproductive tract.

“Study of abalone yields new insights into sexual reproduction which could lead to techniques to improve fertilization in humans”. 7 Aug 2011. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/232333.php

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