A first in-depth look at the microbiome of human sperm

What human sperm RNA-Seq tells us about the microbiome?


A new study offers a first look at the sperm microbiome using RNA sequencing with enough sensitivity to identify contamination and pathogenic bacterial colonization.

This new investigation looked to determine whether human sperm RNA sequencing data could give a sensitive technique for the identification of micro-organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and archaea contrasted with current strategies of targeted culturing.

The study was conducted by scientists from the Wayne State University School of Medicine in collaboration with the CReATe Fertility Centre and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Stephen Krawetz, Ph.D., associate director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development at WSU, said, “We show that non-targeted sequencing of human sperm RNA has the potential to provide a profile of micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, archaea). This information was recovered from the data typically cast aside as part of routine nucleic acid sequencing. The enhanced sensitivity and specificity of the sequencing technology as compared to current approaches may prove useful as a diagnostic tool for microbial status as part of the routine assessment as we move toward personalized care.”

For the study, scientists collected 85 semen samples. They then isolated the sperm RNA and subjected it to RNA sequencing.

They also discovered a sample with an abnormally high level of microbial sequences. In the wake of investigating, the sample was found to contain a lot of Streptococcus agalactiae bacteria. The main source of neonatal infection during pregnancy and post-delivery linked to critical death rates in premature births, these microbes can likewise be dangerous in adults, especially the old.

Existing methods for examining the male reproductive tract microbiome rely on culturing samples. This can be limiting as the majority of pathogens cannot be cultured.

Dr. Krawetz said, “Given the recent increase and severity of Streptococcus (agalactiae) infection, as well as others in adults, neonates, and newborns, non-targeted human sperm RNA sequencing data may, in addition to providing fertility status, prove useful as a diagnostic for microbial status.”

Other co-authors of the study includes Dr. Swanson include Robert Goodrich, B.S., of the WSU Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics; Sergey Moskovtsev, M.D., and Clifford Librach, M.D., of the CReATe Fertility Centre Research Program, Toronto, Canada; and J. Richard Pilsner, M.P.H., Ph.D., of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

The study is published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics.

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