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Surprising Science

How Sequencing Sperm Could Help Fight Cancer

A new technique used to sequence the genome of single sperm cells for the first time could pay dividends by making in vitro fertilization more reliable and even aiding cancer research. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have achieved the first genetic comparison of individual sperm cells, revealing their complexity by using medical techniques that could benefit other areas of research. By using a microfluidic chip to sequence the genome of individual sperm, the team could diagnose recombination problems, “which are thought to be one of the causes of male infertility.” Stanford University’s Jianbin Wang, who led the research, said: “Previous studies have shown that too much or too little recombination can cause infertility. This is a way to find out if recombination is a problem.”

What’s the Big Idea?

It turns out that analyzing the genes of individual cells is a very difficult process and that techniques developed to sequence sperm cells could benefit other areas. The procedure could be used to improve in vitro fertilization by screening females’ eggs for genetic diseases, as well as by aiding cancer research. ‘Every cancer is slightly different,’ said Adam Auton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “If researchers can study single cells from a tumour, they may be able to get a better idea of which genes have been disrupted by mutations, and develop treatments to target them, he says.”

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