This is an extreme close-up of an extremely unpleasant organism. It’s the parasitic blood fluke Schistosoma mansoni – responsible for causing the tropical disease schistosomiasis – or to be precise, its testes. The DNA of the developing sperm and the stem cells that give rise to them is stained blue, while an important DNA-packaging protein is coloured orange. By studying these stem cells, researchers have discovered that a protein called NFYB is essential for keeping the stem cells growing and functioning properly. No NFYB equals no sperm. For a start, this finding could point towards ideas for developing treatments based on blocking or removing NFYB, which could be used to control Schistosoma parasites. But the benefits don’t stop there. Faulty sperm stem cells in humans can lead to infertility if they don’t grow properly, or testicular cancer if they multiply too fast, so there are other avenues to explore.
Written by Kat Arney
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