When sperm have a genetic mutation that leaves them without a specific kind of coating, it makes it a lot harder for them to travel through a woman’s reproductive tract – making a man less fertile and conception a much lengthier process, often, says a new study out of the University of California, Davis. The research appeared last month in the journal Science Translational Medicine, and reported that the genetic mutation was most problematic in men who were unlucky enough to inherit both copies of a problem gene – one from their mom, one from their dad – called DEFB126 that led to the loss of the coating on sperm. “The protein DEFB126 acts as a ‘Klingon cloaking device,’ allowing sperm to swim through mucus and avoid the immune system in order to reach the egg,” said Gary Cherr, a professor at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and Center for Health and Environment. Cherr is co-senior author of the paper.
The study was small – just 19 participants’ semen was used – but the scientists observed that the sperm hampered by a lack of the coating could move at only 15 to 20 percent of the rate of the sperm from men without the genetic mutation, reported Reuters. The UC Davis researchers say that as many as 25 percent of men worldwide carry two copies of the defective gene.
If you or your partner suspect that male infertility (or subfertility) may be contributing to your difficulties conceiving, be sure to talk to your doctor or reproductive endocrinologist about your concerns.