New technique could provide ‘egg health’ indicators

Using the power of single-cell analysis, researchers at the Babraham Institute in the U.K. have assessed the effects of age on egg cells (oocytes) in mice, particularly looking to identify genomic and epigenetic factors that relate to reduced developmental competence. The knowledge uncovered by this research provides new insights into the mechanisms underlying egg quality and is relevant to the development of techniques to assess the quality of human egg cells, an area of growing importance as the use of fertility treatments increases. The research is published in the journal Aging Cell.

Advancing maternal age causes a gradual reduction in fertility. “Why egg cells lose their development competence is something we don’t fully understand but it’s like to be due to a combination of factors,” says Dr. Gavin Kelsey, Head of the Epigenetics research program at the Babraham Institute, who led this work.

The research used a cutting-edge single-cell technique developed at the Institute to identify the characteristics of eggs with reduced developmental competence and distinguish eggs from older females that retained a young-like profile. In particular, eggs from older females had fewer active gene expression and showed greater variability.

“As demonstrated by this research, single-cell techniques and epigenetic analysis could be used to indicate the quality of an egg in terms of forming a healthy embryo after fertilization.” concludes Dr. Kelsey.

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