Health & Fitness | May 17, 2017 8:54 am

Birth Control Breakthrough? Scientists Find Way to Deactivate Sperm

By controlling a sperm cell's power source, an entirely new contraceptive could be created.

Sperm under microscope
Illustration of sperm at work (Science Photo Library/GettyImages)

Scientists have learned how to switch off the “power switch” in sperm cells—a breakthrough that would shut off its fertility potential.

To penetrate an egg’s outer layers, sperm use what’s called a “power kick,” or a large dump of calcium ions that generates the electricity needed for the tail’s intense motion.

These calcium ions only occur in sperm cells and are only activated when they’re near an egg. Scientists have known about the channel through which these ions are pumped, called Catsper, since 2001, but have been unable to act on that knowledge until now.

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley discovered that by clogging the Catsper with certain chemical compounds, the sperm’s energy sources need for the “power kick” is eliminated.

In the findings, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesscientists highlight the two most promising compounds—lupeol, found in mangoes and olives, and pristmerin, contained in an ancient medicinal herb.

The research could most immediately improve emergency female contraceptives while paving the way for male birth control, according to the paper.