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Having just one copy of the mutated gene doesn't seem to hinder conception.
The coatless sperm don't always fail, so it's not clear just how much this issue contributes to male infertility overall.
But creating a test to diagnose these men would be easy, the researchers said. Such a test potentially would lessen the time that a couple having problems conceiving spends in limbo before trying treatments such as having sperm placed directly into the woman's uterus.
One day, a vaginal gel might even let sperm pick up the protein coating as it travels into the cervix. The California researchers say they're already trying that with animals.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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