ERV junk in your junk

As if you all needed one more reason to want Junk DNA to stay JUNK, I just read a couple of neato papers on the impact of wayward ERV and LINE activity in testes/sperm development:

MOV10L1 is necessary for protection of spermatocytes against retrotransposons by Piwi-interacting RNAs

Mouse MOV10L1 associates with Piwi proteins and is an essential component of the Piwi-interacting RNA (piRNA) pathway

Turns out that mice that lack MOV10L1 (a protein named after a retrovirus, but not retroviral– its totally a host protein, long story), grow up to be nice normal mice… except for the fact the males have tiny balls, and they are infertile (heh, cute picture in that first paper of these teeny-tiny mouse balls hehehe).

MOV10L1 is made in the testes, and is super useful during sperm development for shutting down active ERV and LINE elements via RNA interference (the cells cant do anything about the transcripts being made in this case, but they can keep the pirate RNA from causing any trouble). If these ERVs and LINEs are left to their own devices, the cells freak out and kill themselves (apoptosis), leaving you with no sperm.

So it could be that some kinds of male infertility are caused by dysfunctions of MOV10L1 (or somewhere along this pathway), so we could figure out how to cure them.

AND, since we know screwing with MOV10L1 screws around with sperm generation, we might be able to use this knowledge to figure out a male version of The Pill for birth control! Messing up MOV10L1 only messes up spermatogenesis, nothing else. So no surgery or cuts or stuff thats hard to reverse, no hormones or other stuff with off-target side effects– Just stops the sperm. I like this idea!

Comments

  1. #1 Kevin
    June 22, 2010

    I was just conjecturing yesterday about how hard it would be for us to mess with spermatogenesis – something that happens billions of times a day and in massive excess – with anywhere near the simplicity that is female hormonal birth control.

    As usual, viruses are smarter than I am :-(.

  2. #2 W. Kevin Vicklund
    June 22, 2010

    It’s even worse.

    As usual, zombie viruses are smarter than I am :-(.

    Fixed that for ya ;)

  3. #3 Mu
    June 22, 2010

    Great idea, but I can really see the company lawyers sitting down with the company insurance guy discussing liability insurance for a male pill that works by letting ERVs run freely in your sperm producing cells.
    “So, they are absolutely sure that it will neither produce funny kids nor let the guy’s balls shrivel?”

  4. #4 Left_Wing_Fox
    June 22, 2010

    Certainly, these mice must be equipped with lasers instead of tiny balls.

  5. #5 D. C. Sessions
    June 22, 2010

    Messing up MOV10L1 only messes up spermatogenesis, nothing else. So no surgery or cuts or stuff thats hard to reverse, no hormones or other stuff with off-target side effects– Just stops the sperm. I like this idea!

    Years ago I would have thought this was awesome, and in years to come I may again — but right now, I think I’d rather the kids used barrier methods anyway.

  6. #6 Vene
    June 22, 2010

    From what I’ve seen, chemical methods are more reliable than barrier methods for preventing pregnancy. But, I can see value in them considering the plethora of STDs out there.

  7. #7 D. C. Sessions
    June 22, 2010

    I can see value in them considering the plethora of STDs out there.

    And there’s nothing wrong with redundancy. However, I’m a whole lot happier with the idea of unplanned grandchildren than with unplanned viruses in the family.

  8. #8 Mary
    June 22, 2010

    Huh. I wonder if they have neuticles for mice….You know, so the mutants won’t get teased and stuff.

  9. #9 Urmensch
    June 23, 2010

    I was wondering if HIV could become an ERV.
    Are any of the genomes of children born to HIV+ parents examined to see if it has ever happened?
    Could an ERV offer any resistance against the retrovirus in the offspring?

  10. #10 Prometheus
    June 23, 2010

    Mary@#8

    “Huh. I wonder if they have neuticles for mice….You know, so the mutants won’t get teased and stuff.”

    Just use chihuahua neuticles and make Mr.Squeakers king of the lab.

    My wife asked me if we should get neuticles for the dog. I suggested jingle bells so we would always know where he was.

    Since MOV10L1 messes up spermatogenesis are there paternally transmitted chromosome disorders that might be attributable to problems with this host protein?

  11. #11 fnxtr
    June 23, 2010

    Man, the sound from that side-banner for the game is really fucking annoying.

  12. #12 Azkyroth
    June 23, 2010

    Man, the sound from that side-banner for the game is really fucking annoying.

    So right click on the page, select “Block Content” out of the dropdown menu, and block it. You might also edit site preferences and disabled embedded sound.

  13. #13 Tsu Dho Nimh
    June 23, 2010

    But would guys be willing to take a drug that causes them to hacve teeny-tiny balls?

  14. #14 jaranath
    June 24, 2010

    Yeah…tiny balls and/or risk of permanent infertility would be a problem. But if all this does in adults is inhibit new sperm…woo-hoo!

    And how awesome is it to (maybe) achieve male birth control by activating junk DNA from zombie viruses? And much more precise than using hormones.

  15. #15 KristinMH
    June 25, 2010

    @ janarath – Not to be gross or anything, but why are tiny balls a problem? Who – really – gives a shit about ball size?

    I don’t think I’ve *ever* had a conversation with another girl where she said about her boyfriend, “Yeah, he was really cool and the sex was awesome but OMG his balls were TINY! tee hee hee” I can tell you that I have never, ever judged a man that I have had sex with on the size of his balls. It honestly would never occur to me. I don’t even think I know what size balls are supposed to be. They seem to vary some.

    Am I missing out on some vital and common way to humiliate a man? Because if I am, believe me, I want to know.

    Maybe this is a thing in the gay male community? But then birth control would hardly be a priority.

    If you say to a girl – “I’m on the man pill! I can’t make you pregnant! But, on the other hand, I have tiny balls,” I don’t think the tiny balls will be a deal-breaker. Unless she’s a ball-fetishist. Assuming ball-fetishists exist.

    Wow, this is the most continuous thought I’ve given to balls in my entire life. I feel a little ill now.

  16. #16 jaranath
    June 26, 2010

    Kristinmh:

    I’d say it’s a problem on a few levels, mainly in terms of marketing. First, yes, the notion of testicle size is definitely an issue for some men, even though I doubt they pay much direct attention to it. Obviously it’s irrational, but it’s a social machismo thing. Few guys will want to risk it being known they’re taking a drug that could shrink their balls.

    Second, similar to the above, few guys would want to risk ball shrinkage even if they felt sure no one would know or suspect. Partly again due to machismo, but also partly due to medical fears, which brings us to:

    Third, I’ve been assuming in the first two that there’s no medical or permanent reproductive harm from the shrinkage. I’m sure that’s a very open question at this point, with no human trials. Of course, if this was the case then the drug wouldn’t be approved or would have limited use (like a chemical vasectomy).

    So besides possible medical risks, I think the main issue would indeed be as you suggest: A marketing problem based on male self-image.

  17. #17 medyum
    July 7, 2010

    Man, the sound from that side-banner for the game is really fucking annoying