A contraceptive pill for men might one day be possible following the discovery of a genetic fault that leads to male infertility, scientists said.
The faulty gene affects the movement of sperm and means they cannot penetrate the membrane of an egg in order to fertilise it.
Scientists hope that by studying the way the gene works they might be able to overcome infertility in some men as well as design a drug that causes a reversible change in the ability of the sperm to fertilise an egg.
While millions of women around the world have benefitted from the Pill since the 1960s, no effective male equivalent has been developed - leaving them to rely on condoms or the more drastic solution of vasectomy. Attempts to come up with an oral contraceptive for men have so far failed because of the immense numbers of sperm produced each day as part of normal male reproduction.
Dr Michael Hildebrand, one of the researchers from the University of Iowa, said: ‘We have identified Catsper1 as a gene that is involved in non-syndromic male infertility in humans, a finding which could lead to future infertility therapies that replace the gene or the protein.
‘But perhaps even more importantly, this finding could have implications for male contraception.’
A spokesman for the Family Planning Association said: ‘Now that women have such a great range of contraceptives to choose from, it is vital that men have options too. Although more research must be done to make sure any male contraceptive is safe and effective, it is great that efforts are being made to increase contraceptive choice.’
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