Boffins in Edinburgh, Scotland have discovered that a single mutated gene in male mice can inhibit the last stages of sperm development, thus inducing infertility. As a result, we are that much closer to hormone-free, reversible, and surgery-free male contraception.
Researchers discovered the gene by inducing random mutations in the genetic code of a group of mice, then singling out those who became infertile. Their research, published in PLoS Genetics, led them to the Katnal1 gene, which controls the production of proteins necessary for maintaining the structural integrety of sperm cells (i.e. the cytoskeleton). The old adage in design states that form should follow function, but in this case, formless sperm actually have no chance of functioning.
The fact that the Katnal1 gene comes into play very late in the sperm-production process means that it can be altered without affecting the production of genetic material of the sperm. This also means that any treatment targeting this gene would have a higher chance of being reversible. After all, there are plenty of ways to irreversibly render yourself infertile already available.
To be clear, this doesn't mean that we'll soon be seeing a male birth control pill based on this discovery on pharmacy shelves anytime soon. But researchers are hopeful that this is a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, you'll just have to wait it out, unless you want to perform random mutagenesis on your crotchal area with lasers or something and hope for the best. (Please don't). [PLoS Genetics via BBC]
Image: Mikael Colville-Andersen/Flickr