The dynamics of fertilization and the molecules involved in the interaction of the sperm and the egg has long been a mystery to the field of biomedical engineering research. In 2005, the Izumo protein, named after a Japanese marriage shrine, was discovered by a group of Japanese researchers. This protein is said to be found on the surface of the sperm which enables it to identify the egg. What molecule does the Izumo protein seeks to recognize was what has not been identified, until just recently.
A biomedical biomedical engineering team led by Dr. Gavin Wright from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has identified the protein which pairs with the Izumo protein to make fertilization happen. The protein was named Juno, after the Roman Goddess of fertility and marriage.
The research team discovered the protein by synthesizing a molecule similar to the Izumo protein. This was then used to effectively identify the binding sites on the surface of the egg. Through this, they are able to conclude that fertilization occurs when Izumo and Juno binds to each other.
In addition, scientists in the field of biomedical engineering research have developed male and female mice which lack the Izumo and the Juno proteins, respectively. It was found that male mice which lack the Izumo protein were infertile. The same findings were observed in the female mice which do not have the Juno protein. Their eggs were unable to fuse with normal sperm. This concludes the importance of both proteins in fertilization.
Furthermore, the biomedical engineering team also observed that after the successful interaction of the sperm and the egg through the binding proteins, the Juno protein was undetectable on the surface of the egg. This highlights the fact that the egg cannot recognize further sperm and cannot be fertilized by two sperms at the same time. Otherwise, the embryos would have too many chromosomes and would be incompatible for life.
Dr. Enrica Bianchi, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute points out that this addition to current biomedical science innovations is the first established interaction and recognition of the sperm and the egg not only in any organism.
“We may be able to use this discovery to improve fertility treatments and develop new contraceptives,” Dr. Gavin Wright highlights. He explained that without this discovered interaction, there would be no fertilization.
Currently, screening of unfertile women is being carried out by the team to determine whether the loss of the protein Juno may be identified as a cause of infertility.
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