Scientists are announcing a breakthrough in the study of fertility. They've learned more about how a sperm cell links to an egg cell, offering hope for future treatments—for both fertility and contraception, Nature reports. Scientists already knew of a protein on the surface of a sperm cell that allowed it to "dock" on an egg cell; it's known as Izumo1. Now, they've pinpointed its partner protein—one on the surface of an egg that connects to Izumo1. They're calling this newly-identified protein Juno, the name of the Roman goddess of fertility, Nature notes.
After linking to Izumo1, the protein is gone in less than an hour, preventing more sperm cells from docking on a fertilized egg. So what does this mean for parents-to-be? "What we can do is perform a very simple genetic screening test that isn’t invasive," checking on the condition of the protein in women trying to conceive, says biochemist Gavin Wright in a video, via the Washington Post. Those lacking the protein "can proceed directly" to having sperm injected into egg cells. As for those who aren't looking to conceive, Juno could potentially be manipulated to avoid pregnancy.