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Scientists crack genetic secrets of human egg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The human egg's ability to transform into a new life, or into new cells that may someday save lives, is well documented. The mystery lies in the mechanics - in how a single cell can transform so nimbly.

Scientists at Michigan State University report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have identified genes unique to the human egg. The identification opens the way to understanding these genes' functions, which may lead to solving problems from infertility to degenerative diseases.

"What's in the egg to have that power?" asked Jose Cibelli, MSU professor of physiology and animal science. "Some of those genes are responsible for the magic trick that the egg has. This paper takes a peek at what genes are in the egg waiting to make these changes."

Combined with sperm, the egg divides and organizes cells to ultimately create a human being.

Combined with technology, the unfertilized egg might be coaxed to produce other specific cells, including stem cells, which can be directed to grow into new tissue. This potential could be used to combat diseases.

Cibelli said his team's mission is to grow stem cells without using fertilized embryos, which can be controversial. This work used only unfertilized human eggs that were obtained from women seeking fertility treatment at a clinic in Santiago, Chile. Women at the clinic must be reproductively healthy, no older than 35, and the cause of infertility must lie within the man. This presented the availability of exceptionally healthy eggs, Cibelli said. All the donors granted informed consent for their surplus eggs to be used for this research.

Cibelli worked with researchers in Chile to extract the RNA from the unfertilized eggs soon after they were harvested. That material (a treasure of genetic information,) was frozen and shipped to MSU.

Cibelli's team, Arif Murat Kocabas, Pablo Ross, Zeki
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Contact: Sue Nichols
nichols@msu.edu
517-353-8942
Michigan State University
5-Sep-2006


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