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Pressing Pause

Mechanism discovered in insects that prolongs germ cell life and therefore fertility – clues to keeping stem cells fresh as we age

06 April 2022

Pressing Pause

Ageing takes a toll on our bodies, often affecting fertility. But at the tips of these fruit fly (Drosophila ovaries, scientists discover a clever trick that prolongs the life of germline stem cells destined to become eggs (black dots). Six weeks old is 'getting on a bit' for a fruit fly – those pictured on the top find their ovaries shrinking, yet the similarly aged flies on the bottom appear more youthful, and with a greater number of stem cells. These flies were deprived of juvenile hormone – a gentle stress that mimics diapause – a sort of protective state that the fly enters in times of adversity. Chemical treatments restore juvenile hormone signals and 'unpause' the diapause so ageing (and development) can continue. Searching for similar mechanisms in humans may help to solve issues with fertility and keep other stem cells fresh as we age.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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