BEIJING, Aug. 22 (Xinhuanet) -- Researchers have discovered how a human egg captures an incoming sperm for fertilization, paving the way to help couples suffering from infertility, according to media reports on Monday.
An international team of researchers found that a sugar chain known as the sialyl-lewis-x sequence (SLeX) makes the outer coat of the egg “sticky,” which has proven to be helpful in binding the egg and the sperm.
As a result, this observation has filled in a huge gap in the understanding of fertility and provides hope for ultimately helping couples who currently cannot conceive.
Scientists and doctors know that a sperm identifies an egg when proteins on the head of the sperm match and bind to a series of specific sugars in the egg’s outer coating. With a successful match of proteins, the outside surfaces of the sperm and egg then bind together before merging, which is then followed by delivery of sperm’s DNA into egg.
To identify this molecules, the researchers used ultra-sensitive mass-spectrometric imaging technology to observe and identify which molecules are most likely to be key in the binding process.
They experimented with a range of synthesised sugars in the laboratory and found that it is SLeX that specifically binds sperm to an egg.
According to the World Health Organisation, infertility affects about 15 percent of reproductive-aged couples around the world and almost one in every seven couples in Britain has problems conceiving a child for various reasons.