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BBSRC-funded plant scientists help to show lack of vital omega-6 results in defective sperm

10 December 2010

BBSRC-funded plant scientists at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Herts have played a key role in helping an international research team to show that male infertility may be due to the absence of some polyunsaturated fats in the testes.

The international study, led Professor Anders Jacobsson at the Wenner-Gren Institute for Experimental Biology at Stockholm University, relied on expertise at Rothamsted in the study of lipids to identify long chain polyunsaturated fats that were missing in mice that had a particular gene, called Evolv2, blocked. The research team showed that the absence of specific omega-6 fats led to the absence of mature sperm and infertility in the mice.

The study has been published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

The Rothamsted Research team, led by Professor Johnathan Napier, more usually use their expertise in the study and understanding of lipids to develop ways to enrich certain plants with omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. This research could have important applications in the production of nutritionally enhanced foods. For the mouse study the Rothamsted scientists used high resolution analytical techniques to identify the specific omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids missing in the Evolv2 blocked mice.

Prof Napier said: "At Rothamsted we have had considerable success in modifying plants to produce omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, the beneficial fatty acids found in fish oil. This study shows that the missing omega-6 fatty acid in these mice cannot be replaced with omega-3 in any quantities. The challenge we will now be addressing is whether we can develop plants to produce these omega-6 very long chain polyunsaturates as a nutritional supplement."

The research showed that even mild changes in the amount of omega-6 fatty acids decreased sperm quality significantly. Prof. Anders Jacobsson, said, "The effects are similar to certain types of male infertility and we are now trying to identify whether these fatty acids are also affected by certain groups infertile men."

This study is based on an international collaboration with researchers from Sweden, France, England and USA, and includes Prof. Mario Capecchi (University of Utah), winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Physiology. This study sheds new light on our understanding of the importance of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats and how a disturbance of this may lead to impaired fertility in men.


Notes to editors

This study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Lipid Research as 'ELOVL2 controls the level of n-6 28:5 and 30:5 fatty acids in testis, a Prerequisite for male fertility and sperm maturation in mice.' Please see:

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research is based in Hertfordshire and is one of the largest agricultural research institutes in the country. The mission of Rothamsted Research is to be recognised internationally as a primary source of first-class scientific research and new knowledge that addresses stakeholder requirements for innovative policies, products and practices to enhance the economic, environmental and societal value of agricultural land. The Applied Crop Science department is based at Broom's Barn, Higham, Bury St. Edmunds. North Wyke Research is located near Okehampton in Devon. Rothamsted Research is an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Professor Johnathan Napier, Rothamsted Research

tel: 01582 763133 ext 2136

Dr Sharon Hall, Rothamsted Research Press Office

tel: 01582 763133 ext 2757

Dr Adélia de Paula, Rothamsted Research Press Office

tel: 01582 763133 ext 2260