Infertility is extremely common, with an estimated one in six Australian couples of reproductive age experiencing issues conceiving, according to IVF Australia.
While it might be commonplace, the causes of infertility in both men and women can often be unexplained, so new research from Kumamoto University in Japan may have made a massive leap forward when it comes to reproductive health for both genders.
Researchers found a gene, called meiosin, which can act like a switch that blocks reproduction in both men and women. Meiosin can inhibit the process of meiosis, which is the production of cells that are a mixture of genetic material from both egg and sperm, as reported by Mind Body Green.
The study artificially inhibited the receptor for the meiosin gene in the male and female test mice, which caused both sexes to become infertile. While the tests were carried out on mice, the same gene is found in humans, making the scientific find a huge advancement.
“Our work shows that the Meiosin gene is the switch that turns on meiosis, the special type of cell division that creates eggs and sperm, and this includes the turning-on of hundreds of other genes in the process,” said Associate Professor Kei-Ichiro Ishiguro of the Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics at Kumamoto University.
“If it eventually becomes possible to control meiosis, the benefits would be far-reaching for reproductive medicine, agricultural production, and even assisting rare species reproduction.”
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How to diagnose infertility
Health professionals won’t diagnose infertility until you have tried to conceive for at least 12 months with no success. IVF Australia recommends that women over 35 seek help after six months of trying.
The causes of infertility are varied and can stem from the woman, the man or a combination of other factors.
Causes of infertility in men
When it comes to male infertility, it usually revolves around sperm. Common factors include:
- Low sperm count or a sperm production which is lacking
- Blocked tubes so sperm can’t reach where they need to be for conception
- Abnormal shape of sperm, which inhibits sperm penetrating the egg
Common risk factors associated with male fertility can include smoking, being overweight, age and a heavy use of alcohol.
Causes of infertility in women
Trouble conceiving for women is often caused by issues that affect the body’s biological processes, including:
- Ovulation disorders, where you either ovulate irregularly or not at all
- Issues with the fallopian tubes, which can stop the egg from travelling
- Endometriosis or PCOS
- Salpingitis (pelvic inflammatory disease) which is caused by a sexually transmitted disease
Much like men, women’s fertility can be affected by smoking, a heavy use of alcohol, being overweight and an increasing age.