Dr. Bo Xiong (far right) and team members (from left to right) Ms. Yu Zhang, Mr. Zhaokang Cui and Ms. Wenjun Zeng in front of their ZEISS LSM 900 confocal microscope, College of Animal Science and Technology, Nanjing Agricultural University, China
Fading Fertility: Using Confocal Microscopy to Understand Oocyte Quality
Approximately every month, primary oocytes in fertile women develop into a few ova (egg cells); if one is fertilized with sperm, it can create a new human. The production of these cells actually starts during a woman’s embryonic development and the primary oocytes exist in a partially developed state until just prior to ovulation, when they complete meiosis to form eggs that are released from the ovary. Some primary oocytes exist in this partially developed state – with their DNA replicated into sister chromatids and paired up with homologous chromosomes, waiting for separation into mature eggs – for upwards of forty years.
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Dr. Bo Xiong is a reproductive biologist at the College of Animal Science and Technology, Nanjing Agricultural University, China. He has been working in this field for over 20 years.
He recently published a paper which used confocal microscopy to uncover new roles of proteins involved in producing fertilization-competent eggs in mice and pigs. We spoke to him about his research.
Tell us about the goals of your lab.
The research area of my lab is focused on oocyte quality control. As we know, the high quality of oocytes, a precondition for successful fertilization and subsequent embryonic development, is the material basis for onset of life. In most mammals, female reproductive aging is primarily featured by a prominent decline in the quantity and quality of oocytes. It has been reported that the fecundity of women begins to drop in their early 30s and falls more rapidly after the age of 35, accompanied by a dramatically increased incidence of infertility, miscarriage, embryo lethality and congenital birth defects. Thus, the low quality of oocytes is a common and insurmountable problem for women with advanced maternal age.
In spite of the significance of the problem, strategies to sustain oocyte quality with age have been poorly explored. Our work aims to identify the molecular biomarkers for oocyte quality and develop effective approaches and strategies to protect the oocytes from deterioration induced by maternal aging, contributing to improved fertility and enhanced efficiency of assisted reproductive technology.