A Study on Fruit Flies to Explore the Impact of Ageing on Male Fertility

The decline in male fruit fly fertility as they age is not solely due to changes in sperm

Infertility can be a major effect of ageing. It is clearer that aging affects female fertility more than males, but the effects are also felt by men. The male reproductive ageing is less studied, but those studies that do focus on it tend to be sperm-focused. Ejaculate is more than sperm. The seminal fluid contains proteins that are vital for fertility. In many animals, these proteins have a profound effect on the physiology and behaviour of females. There is little information about the effect of male aging and these proteins on ejaculates.

Researchers at the Department of Zoology of the University of Oxford conducted experiments on a fruit fly model organism called Drosophila. Researchers can measure the effect of ageing on male fertility and seminal liquid proteins very quickly with this species, as it lives less than five week. The species was also very amenable to the genetic studies. This allowed researchers to genetically alter the lifespan of males to determine the impact on fertility.

Their results, published in PNAS this week, show that both the quality and quantity of sperm as well as seminal fluid proteins decline with age in males. This contributes to a decline in reproductive performance for older males. The relative impact on sperm, seminal liquid, and ejaculate can often be different, resulting in mismatches. In spite of these differences, the experimental extension in male lifespan resulted in improved ejaculate performances later on, suggesting that this type of intervention can delay both male reproduction aging and male death.


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