Just when we thought we had the biology of human reproduction figured out, new research shows there’s still plenty we don’t understand. Today’s example? A team of biologists have shown that a protein commonly found in the semen of many animals—including humans—can help kick-start the release of an egg (a.k.a. ovulation). The protein, which has been on biologists’ radars for a long time, is called beta nerve growth factor, or β-NGF—named for the first thing scientists noticed it doing.
Studies in llamas, alpacas, and cows show that giving β-NGF as a shot leads to the release of an egg in most of the animals. But what about humans? We know there is β-NGF in human semen too, but we don’t know whether it does something similar in humans as in the animals the scientists tested it on. The researchers hope to tackle this question next.
The answers they find will help determine how reliable the rhythm method (a.k.a. fertility awareness) can be as a form of birth control. It could also suggest a new treatment for couples struggling with infertility… We’ll be keeping our ears open!