Finding ‘could lead to new contraceptives’

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The discovery of an elusive protein that allows sperm and eggs to join together could lead to the development of new contraceptives, according to a Sheffield fertility expert.

British scientists have discovered a molecule, named Juno after the Roman goddess of fertility, which sits on the egg’s surface and binds with a male partner on a sperm cell.

The research suggests the protein is vital to conception, and that it prevents extra sperm fusing with an already-fertilised egg, which would produce an abnormal embryo with too many chromosomes.

Dr Allan Pacey, head of andrology at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said the findings were ‘very exciting’.

“We are still remarkably sketchy about some of the key molecules involved in the early stages of fertilisation when the sperm and egg first interact,” said Dr Pacey.

“The information could be immensely useful to help in the diagnosis of infertility but also in the design of new novel contraceptives for humans and other animal species.”

Scientists are now screening infertile women to see whether defects with Juno are behind their condition.

The research was led by academics based in Cambridgeshire.