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The Huddle Formation: What Fertility, Football Players, and Fruit Flies Have In Common
a blog by Suzanne Rico, January 24, 2013
I’m always trying to keep up on the latest fertility science, so when I saw the headline “Scientists discover new gene linked to infertility” I clicked to read the BBC story. A study done on fruit flies, it reported, showed that their chromosomes—and especially their egg chromosomes—normally huddle together, like football players plotting a quarterback sneak or a flea flicker on the twenty yard line with ten seconds left in the game. More importantly, fruit flies whose egg chromosomes don’t exhibit this huddling behavior have trouble getting knocked up.
Yes--you heard right. If a small, yellow-brown fly with bulging red eyes is missing a certain gene its chromosomes won’t cuddle or huddle—a bonding process apparently necessary to ensure the egg’s healthy development and fertilization. Don’t like being compared to a fly, ladies? Too bad, because fruit flies are similar enough to humans to provide a treasure trove of insight into our genetics. In fact, it is likely that no other model organism has contributed more to the understanding of human disease and dysfunction.
“You may remember that when you learned about genetics in high school, it was likely about the transmission of eye color in the fruit fly,” says Art Wisot, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist with Reproductive Partners Medical Group. “If this very same fruit fly can give us insight into why some couples may have a genetic reason for their infertility and why they may never be able to achieve success, it may help these couples move on sooner to a treatment that can help them become successful--such as egg or sperm donation--and avoid a lot of frustration. If we can find these genetic issues, the future holds promise for gene treatment to convert these couples from hopelessly infertile with their eggs and sperm to parents.”
That’s why I’m seeing the lowly fruit fly with new eyes these days. These little bugs are not only providing insight into infertility, but into Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, aging, oxidative stress, immunity, and diabetes as well. And since my mother always insisted that teamwork could accomplish anything—two to make a baby, for example (fruit fly or human), or eleven football players to score a touchdown—it seems possible that one day, perhaps, a collection of scientists huddled up at the fruit fly farm will help cure infertility.
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