Scripps Research Institute Scientists Capture Picture of ‘MicroRNA’ In Action

Biologists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have described the atomic-level workings of “microRNA” molecules, which control the expression of genes in all animals and plants.

The findings add greatly to the understanding of a fundamental system of regulation in biology, and should accelerate the development of therapies that harness its power.

“We’ve obtained the clearest picture to date of how these crucial gene regulators work,” said TSRI Associate Professor Ian J. MacRae, who was senior investigator for the study reported in the October 31, 2014 issue of the journal Science.

The Gene Silencers

MicroRNAs, as their name suggests, are snippets of ribonucleic acid, only about 22 nucleotides long. Encoded by genes, they are meant to function as RNA molecules, and are never translated into proteins. In humans there are almost 2,000 distinct microRNAs, which collectively regulate somewhere between 30 and 80 percent of human genes.

MicroRNAs do their work by intercepting and effectively “silencing” the RNA transcripts of genes. These tiny gene-regulators operate in all multicellular organisms, including all plants and animals; even some viruses have them. Moreover, their normal workings appear to be disrupted in many human diseases. Yet their central importance in biology has become apparent only in the last decade or so, and the details of how they silence their targets have started to come into focus only in the last few years.

MicroRNAs operate not on their own, but in the company of large proteins called Argonautes, which microRNAs effectively guide to their RNA targets. In a study reported in Science in 2012, MacRae and his graduate student Nicole T. Schirle used X-ray crystallography techniques to determine, for the first time, the atomic structure of human Argonaute bound to a microRNA and its RNA target.

Seeing How the Process Works

In the new study, the researchers were able to determine the structure of human Argonaute-plus-microRNA in the act of binding to an RNA target. “We could see from these structural data the details of how the process works,” said MacRae.

The data show that Argonaute holds a microRNA molecule in a way that initially exposes only a few of its nucleotides—presumably to minimize interactions with RNAs that aren’t in its target set. These few exposed microRNA nucleotides will, however, stick to the complementary nucleotide sequences found on target RNAs. When such contact is made, Argonaute rearranges its structure to facilitate a tighter embrace of more closely matching targets.

“A key helix structure on Argonaute moves out of the way, allowing further base-pairing between the microRNA guide and its target,” said Schirle. “In general, Argonaute changes its conformation so as to expand the binding and stabilize the interaction with an appropriate target RNA.”

MicroRNAs bind to RNA targets that match its sequence only very partially, in short stretches, which is why a single microRNA may be able to intercept the transcripts of hundreds of different genes. When it binds such transcripts, the microRNA-Argonaute team summons other molecules that effectively block the transcripts from further meaningful activity. By contrast, related regulatory molecules called short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) match their RNA targets more completely, and induce Argonaute to silence those targets more directly, with a built-in enzyme that slices them in two.

The study hints at how Argonaute switches to this more direct mode of silencing. “Slicing requires a catalytic magnesium ion, which has to be held in a precise position over the target,” said Schirle. “What we see now is that this magnesium ion is positioned in the wrong place in the Argonaute structure when a microRNA is bound to its target, so that the target won’t be sliced. We propose that a more extensive pairing with the target RNA, as siRNAs make, would then swing the magnesium ion into the correct position to enable slicing.”

Untapped Medical Potential

The new wealth of structural detail on microRNA-Argonaute function will be of broad scientific interest, but should also make a big impact on medicine. The great therapeutic potential of drugs that mimic or inhibit microRNAs to control key processes in cells is at this point completely untapped.

“There is a whole new class of microRNA-targeting drugs that have been proposed and have started to be developed,” said MacRae, “and here we’ve provided information that should be very helpful in designing such drugs.”

The paper, “Structural basis for microRNA targeting,” was also co-authored by Jessica Sheu-Gruttadauria, a graduate student in the MacRae Laboratory. Funding for the research was provided by the National Institutes of Health (R01 GM104475).

20 Years After BRCA: What We’ve Learned About Genetics and Breast Cancer .

Twenty years ago, scientists announced the discovery of BRCA1, which arguably has become the best-known cancer susceptibility gene in the world. When inherited in a mutated form, the gene sharply increases a woman’s chances of developing breast orovarian cancer, often at an early age. The discovery has changed the way women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer approach these diseases, helping them better understand their risk and the options for reducing it. It also presents them with complex choices about sharing genetic test results with family members who may also carry the mutated gene.

The hunt for BRCA1 began in earnest in 1990, after Mary-Claire King of the University of California at Berkeley discovered a genetic link to breast and ovarian cancer on chromosome 17. That set in motion a worldwide competition to scour chromosome 17 for the actual gene – dubbed BRCA1 for BReast CAncer 1. In August 1994, Mark Skolnick, PhD, of Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake City, announced his group had found BRCA1 and mapped its DNA sequence.

Huma Q. Rana, MD, medical director for Dana-Farber's Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention.

While these discoveries led to the identification of BRCA1 – and, a year later, to a secondbreast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA2 – their roots lay in research begun decades earlier by Dana-Farber’s Frederick P. Li, MD. With his colleague Joseph Fraumeni, MD, Li found that abnormalities in certain inherited genes explained why some families have a pattern of cancer across the generations.

Although only about 5-10 percent of women with breast cancer carry inherited mutations in BRCA1 or 2, those whodo have these harmful mutations face a substantially elevated chance of developing a second breast cancer or ovarian cancer. About 12 percent of women in the general population will develop breast cancer at some point during their lives, research shows. By contrast, 55-65 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and about 45 percent who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70.

The picture is similar for ovarian cancer. About 1-2 percent of women in the general population develop ovarian cancer. Compatively, 39 percent of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and 10-20 percent who inherit a BRCA2 mutation will develop ovarian cancer by age 70.

The discovery of BRCA1 and BRCA2 has removed some of the unknowns about breast and ovarian cancer risk and clarified the choices available to women and men who test positive for harmful mutations in these genes. Those choices include more frequent breast exams; enhanced and early breast imaging/screening; surgery to remove the breasts as well as the ovaries; and medications such as tamoxifen, which, according to several studies, can lower the risk of breast cancer in BRCA1 and 2 mutation carriers.

In the years since the discovery of BRCA1 and 2, research has identified the role these genes normally play in cells, and how mutations disrupt that role, potentially leading to cancer. Researchers led by Dana-Farber’s David Livingston, MD, for example, have shown BRCA1 and 2 to be “tumor-suppressor” genes that help repair damaged DNA within cells. When a mutation interferes with such repairs, the accumulation of DNA damage can send cells on a course to cancer.

Research into the basic workings of BRCA1 and 2 has led to some promising approaches to treating breast and ovarian cancers. Recent studies by investigators at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber have shown that chemotherapy agents with platinum, combined with drugs known as PARP inhibitors, are effective at treating BRCA1 and 2-related breast cancer.

Testing positive for BRCA1 or 2 mutations can raise concerns not only about one’s own health but also that of relatives who may also have inherited the mutations. Many cancer centers provide genetic counseling services to help people work through questions about how – or whether – to talk with loved ones about testing.

Rockets ‘destroy chemical weapons’

Micro rocket

The new rockets generate bubbles which powers them forward

A team has developed micro-rockets that can neutralise chemical and biological weapons.

Powered by seawater, the micrometre-sized rockets are capable of degrading agents like anthrax and sarin.

The rockets can “swim” in contaminated samples to decompose them, before eventually self-degrading.

Published in journal ACS Nano, the team says the technology could also decontaminate environmental waste.

“It needs no external stimuli, just expose it to seawater, it then generates a bubble and moves around. In the past, people needed external fuel but here we use seawater as the fuel,” explained Joseph Wang at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), who was involved in developing the rockets.

Prof Wang said it could degrade both biological weapons and nerve agents like sarin, commonly used as weapons in the Middle East.

“Our rockets can protect against these, faster, cheaper and using less reagents,” he told BBC News.

The rocket is made from magnesium coated with titanium dioxide. A small eye-like opening exposes the magnesium which reacts with the seawater causing a “bubble propulsion” effect which powers it forward.

Anthrax bacteria
The micro-rockets can be used to neutralise dangerous biological weapons like anthrax

This propulsion then enables titanium dioxide to react and break down chemical and biological agents. Titanium dioxide is already known for its amazing ability to break down pollutants. It has previously been used for self-cleaning windows and engineers have even coated cotton with the chemical in an attempt to make clothes clean themselves.

The UCSD scientists say that titanium dioxide is also extremely useful for degrading chemical and biological warfare agents. It produces no toxic waste material and does not need chemicals which have toxic by-products.

One of the next challenges will be to scale up the project to enable the micro-motors to clear a large area of contaminants.

There are broader impacts of the technology too, said Prof Wang. His team are now working on a similar motor which could be used to help treat disease by targeting cancer cells, or it could release drugs inside the body.

The project was funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a US government organisation.

Measuring Your Sweat, A Health Monitor And Diagnostic Device Is The Future Of Wearable Technology

Scientists are creating a wearable gadget that stimulates and collects sweat via a patch the size of a band-aid, and then analyzes it using your smartphone. 

Sweat, the cooling system of your body, is made almost completely of water, with tiny amounts of other chemicals, including ammonia, urea, salts, and sugar. Remarkably, these chemicals along with the small molecules and peptides they contain can reveal what is going on inside your body. For this reason, scientists are trying to harness sweat through some form of wearable technology and turn it into a new way to measure and monitor your immediate health. “Sweat contains a trove of medical information and can provide it in almost real time,” wrote Dr. Jason Heikenfeld, associate professor of electronic and computing systems, University of Cincinnati, in an article for IEEE Spectrum.

Since, well, nearly forever doctors have been extracting fluids from our bodies in order to evaluate some aspect of our health. How many blood tests, urine tests, or saliva tests have you undergone in your life? For some time now, researchers have been exploring ideas and technologies that might continuously monitor a given biomarker and so open a window on the status of our overall health, in the manner, say, of a diabetic who daily tests her blood sugar levels. Because of its non-invasive (and therefore painless) possibilities, Heikenfeld and his co-researchers began to focus their efforts on using sweat as fuel.

Specifically, Heikenfeld envisions a wearable gadget that stimulates and collects sweat via a patch about the size of a band-aid, and then analyzes it using your smartphone. “Sweat is a vastly untapped biofluid for human performance monitoring,” said Heikenfeld’s collaborator, Dr. Joshua Hagen of the Air Force Research Laboratory, which funds the research.

What would this technology offer? According to Heikenfeld and Hagen, the new gadget would help us map the effects of our lifestyle choices on our immediate health while revealing, possibly, the unseen onset of cancer. The device could monitor heat stress in firefighters and fatigue in first responders. Taking a new prescription drug? Whether during a clinical study or after approval, the gadget could determine our response time and possible side effects in patients. With a complementary tool, paramedics might understand a patient’s condition in short order and then perform as necessary… or quickly diagnose a concussion in a backyard football player.

The value from the perspective of the Air Force is also clear. After investing millions in a fighter jet, a technology to monitor and improve the alertness and cognitive function of its pilot is the natural next step. In particular, the Air Force is hoping the device will be able to accurately measure cytokine biomarkers, as a determination of a pilot’s stress level, and to measure neuropeptide biomarkers, such as Orexin-A, to understand alertness levels and general brain states.

While there’s a good deal of work ahead, Heikenfeld’s lab is refining a patch that includes secure Bluetooth communication, data storage, and a small microcontroller to help conduct signals from the electronic sensors on the patch. In the meantime, a simple physical-exertion sensor patch, created for athletes and measuring only electrolyte imbalances causing dehydration, could appear on the market as early as 2015.

6 Foods You Think Are Vegetarian But Aren’t

Woman buying bananas at the supermarket
These foods — from bananas to orange juice — are commonly mistaken as vegetarian, but actually contain bizarre animal parts that can make a vegetarian cringe. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The Food and Drug Administration’s Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 ruling requires food manufacturers to label common food allergens, leading some companies to be more transparent about the source of their ingredients. However, the FDA does not require food companies to clearly indicate all ingredient sources on the label. This has presented concerns for vegetarians and vegans who have to deal with the ambiguity of ingredients like “natural flavors,” which could be derived from either an animal or plant source.

Most common foods considered to be vegetarian actually contain remnants of non-veg food. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike still have to deal with shades of gray when it comes to thinking green. Below are the most common foods considered to be vegetarian but, surprisingly, aren’t receiving a green thumb of approval.

1. Altoids

The go-to fresh breath mint may be friendly for your breath but not for your vegetarian needs. Altoids contain gelatin — a thickening agent used to give gummies and yogurt a jelly-like consistency, but it’s derived from collagen obtained from various animal by-products. Gelatin is used as a stabilizing agent in Altoids. However, in 2011, the mint company altered the ingredients of their Wintergreen mints, adding blue food coloring. Altoid mints labeled “sugar-free smalls” do not contain gelatin. They are a vegetarian friendly option.

2. Bananas

It may seem “bananas” that this potassium-rich food is not vegetarian, but it turns out a spray-on coating designed to lengthen its shelf life may contain animal parts. Chitosan, a bacteria-fighting compound derived from shrimp and crab shells, is used to prevent bananas from ripening, softening and rotting into mush, according to Science Daily. This presents bad news for vegetarians, vegans and those with a shellfish allergy.

Although the banana itself is fine, it’s the spray used to extend its shelf life that makes it non-veg. Gina Keatley, a New York-based dietician at Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy, told Medical Daily in an email: “The coating is made of shellfish and works amazingly well; however, this makes the product no longer vegan.” She suggests vegetarians and vegans go organic to avoid the spray.

3. Beer

Not all beer is created equal when it comes to being vegetarian friendly. Guinness beer is known to use fish bladder as a fining agent, meaning it removes unwanted leftovers from the brewing process, and could possibly end up in your pint. However, the beer company does not list it as an ingredient on the label.

According to Keatley, fish bladder is used to filter the yeast in some brands, with the thicker British brands being more prone to using tropical fish bladders to filter. She suggests sticking to the big American brands like Budweiser and Coors, which are both vegetarian and vegan friendly.

4. Chips

The nutrition labels on chips sometimes do not distinguish between animal and plant-based enzymes. FritoLay explains on their website enzymes from pork are used to develop the cheese in some of their cheese seasonings. Their BBQ-flavored baked chips contain chicken fat. However, there are FritoLay chips that are free of pork enzymes for vegetarians and vegans to consume.

5. Orange Juice

Orange juice is marketed as “heart healthy,” meaning manufacturers add omega-3s from anchovies, tilapia, and sardines — unless they are synthetic. “[A]lso the vitamin D added is derived from lanolin, which comes from sheep wool, but this differs from brand to brand,” Keatley said. She suggests opting for fresh squeezed orange juice to avoid the non-veg ingredients.

6. Supplements And Vitamins

Vegetarians and vegans looking to get the daily recommended amount of vitamins and minerals should opt for supplements and vitamins that are not in gel caps. Dr. Jennie Ann Freiman, a New York obstetrician-gynecologist told Medical Daily: “[G]el caps are not vegetarian because the capsule is made of gelatin, which is usually beef (can be fish etc. but less likely).” She believes not many people realize this when they shop for supplements and vitamins.

Keep these six vegetarian foods that are actually non-veg in your back pocket when you go food shopping.

Is Sleep Apnea a Risk Factor for Chronic Kidney Disease?

The prevalence of chronic kidney disease (CKD) is increasing, which presents challenges for both patients and health-care budgets. Although this phenomenon has been attributed to the growth in diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, sleep apnea and nocturnal hypoxemia may also contribute to the pathogenesis of CKD and its progression to kidney failure. Two pathophysiologic mechanisms responsible for CKD are glomerular hyperfiltration and chronic intrarenal hypoxia, resulting in tubulointerstitial injury, the final common pathway to end-stage kidney disease (ESKD). Multiple descriptive studies have demonstrated an association between CKD and sleep apnea. Although sleep apnea is common in patients with CKD and associated with significant nocturnal hypoxemia, it is often relatively free of sleep-related symptoms, making it difficult to detect without objective nocturnal monitoring. Nevertheless, sleep apnea and nocturnal hypoxemia have been associated with loss of kidney function and kidney injury, suggesting that they contribute to the pathogenesis of continued deterioration in kidney function. There are several pathways through which sleep apnea may achieve this, including a direct effect of intrarenal hypoxia and activation of the systemic and renal renin-angiotensin system. Further research is required to better understand these relationships and determine whether specific interventions in patients with sleep apnea have an impact on clinical outcomes, such as reducing the prevalence of CKD and delaying its progression to ESKD.


Does Milk Actually Build Strong Bones? Sugar Content May Lead To Greater Fracture Risks.

Researchers find link between high milk consumption and increased mortality risk. 

Mankind’s relationship with milk post-infancy is still relatively new. In fact, two-thirds of the human population still lack the enzyme needed to break down the lactose in milk and will most surely end up with the monster of all stomach aches if they drink too much. Still, for those of us who are able to drink milk without too much of a discomfort, we’ve drank with the idea that we were somewhat improving our bone health.

However, many scholars have noticed that when it comes to osteoporosis and milk consumption, the numbers just don’t add up. The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis, such as the United States and countries in the European Union, are some of the biggest global milk consumers, Slate reported. Could it be that milk actually doesn’t do all that much for bone health after all?

In order to answer this question, which could potentially lead to a revision of medical books throughout the world, a team of Swedish researchers followed 61,433 women and 45,339 men for between 11 and 20 years, tracking their diet and bone health. Results showed that for women, higher milk consumption was not associated with a reduction in fracture risk. On top of this, women who drank more than three glasses of milk a day were found to have a higher risk of death than women who drank less than one glass. The men showed similar results with an even more pronounced association between high milk consumption and higher risk of death.

“Our results may question the validity of recommendations to consume high amounts of milk to prevent fragility fractures,” wrote the study’s authors in a press release. “The results should, however, be interpreted cautiously given the observational design of our study. The findings merit independent replication before they can be used for dietary recommendations.”

There is a bit of hope for dairy lovers, though. Although higher consumption of milk was found to be associated with negative health consequences, a high intake of fermented milk products with low lactose content, such as cheese and yogurt, was found to lower the risk of bone fracture and death. This observation was especially prominent for women.

The study was only able to point out a pattern between milk consumption and increased health consequences but emphasizes that more research is needed.

“As milk consumption may rise globally with economic development and increasing consumption of animal source foods, the role of milk and mortality needs to be established definitively now,” said lead researcher Karl Michaëlsson.

Source: Michaëlsson K, Wolk Alicja, Langenskiöld S, et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. BMJ. 2014.

The new science of sleep and dreaming .

A woman takes a nap in front of a window

For centuries our dreams have intrigued us, and now new research suggests that they might have a practical function in our conscious lives. Lynne Malcolm examines new thinking around dreaming, and how we might manipulate our dreams to improve the quality of our sleep and our waking hours.
Our understanding of dreams is currently undergoing a dramatic shift.

We found that individuals who have a creative interest, whether that creative interest is gardening, music, even listening to music, if they have an interest, they actually use their dreams.


According Dr James Pagel of the University of Colorado, who has studied sleep and dreams for over 40 years, the advent of electronic imaging is fundamentally changing our understanding of sleep.

Dr Pagel says that while this might frightening for those who are tied to a set belief system, it’s very exciting for those in the field.

It’s long been known that the stages of sleep are defined by different levels of electrical activity in your brain. After moving through quiet wakefulness to stages one and two, you reach deep, slow wave sleep.

Then, the final REM sleep has some unusual characteristics. Although you are still deeply asleep, your eyes move rapidly beneath their lids, all your body muscles are paralysed and you have no temperature regulation. The whole sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes and it repeats throughout the night.

The fact that the type of dream you have varies according to the stage of sleep you are in is a more recent discovery.

The dreams you have when you’re falling asleep are called hypnagogic dreams. They are very visual and intense, almost like hallucinations, but lack a narrative.

The dreams of REM sleep tend to be long, story-like narratives that often closely resemble the waking state, while light sleep dreams are often rambling, unfocused regurgitations of the day’s waking activities.

In contrast, the dreams of deep sleep are often bizarre, strange events coming from deep in the mind and are sometimes are more akin to sleepwalking. They can include night terrors, extreme body sensations and intense but undeveloped thought processes.

Related: The lucid dreamers

It’s been a widely held view that dreams only occur during the REM phase, but Dr Pagel says there was never been any proof of this, and that REM sleep can occur without dreaming, and dreaming can occur without REM sleep.

Seeing REM sleep as separate to dreaming has philosophical implications, Dr Pagel points out, because it suggests the biological brain and the mind are not the same thing. He describes dreams as ‘tunnelling between the body and the mind’.

‘The interesting thing about dreams is that they have a component which is apparently not biologic,’ he says. ‘There are characteristic components of each dream. There are the visual components, the images we see. There are the memories, all of which somehow are in our system that we’ve incorporated into our dream stories. And then there are emotions.’

‘Those three components of the dream clearly have biologic structures and markers, neuroanatomy, electrophysiology, neurochemistry, things we very well understand.’

‘But there are components of dream which are mind-based. In other words, we use our dreams in creative process, we use our dreams in art, we use our dreams in understanding in ways that we don’t attain with conscious thought.’

‘These appear to be mind-based correlates that we can see within a dream. Now, most dreams may not show those. Most dreams are reflections of our waking life. But some dreams can be very special.’

Dreaming and creativity are often linked, and to investigate this, Dr Pagel conducted a survey of artists, directors, screenwriters and actors working at Sundance Film Labs in the United States.

‘It was kind of amazing how much they used dreams in their work. It was also amazing that there was a difference based on individuals’ creative interest. In other words, directors used their dreams in responding to change in stress, screenwriters used their dreams in decision-making, and actors just used their dreams across the board. No one uses their dreams like an actor.’

Identifying the source of stem cells

When most animals begin life, cells immediately begin accepting assignments to become a head, tail or a vital organ. However, mammals, including humans, are special. The cells of mammalian embryos get to make a different first choice – to become the protective placenta or to commit to forming the baby.

It’s during this critical first step that research from Michigan State University has revealed key discoveries. The results, published in the current issue of PLOS Genetics, provide insights into where stem cells come from, and could advance research in regenerative medicine. And since these events occur during the first four or five days of human pregnancy, the stage in which the highest percentage of pregnancies are lost, the study also has significant implications for fertility research.

Pluripotent stem cells can become any cell in the body and can be created in two ways. First, they can be produced when scientists reprogram mature adult cells. Second, they are created by embryos during this crucial four-day window of a mammalian pregnancy. In fact, this window is uniquely mammalian, said Amy Ralston, MSU assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and lead author on the study.

“Embryos make with 100 percent efficiency,” she said. “The process of reprogramming cells, manipulating our own cells to become stem cells, is merely 1 percent efficient. Embryos have it figured out, and we need to learn how they’re doing it.”

The researchers’ first discovery is that in , the gene, Sox2, appears to be acting ahead of other genes traditionally identified as playing crucial roles in stem cell formation. Simply put, this gene could determine the source of stem cells in mammals. Now researchers are trying to decipher why Sox2 is taking the lead role.

Amy Ralston has identified a possible source of stem cells, which can advance regenerative and fertility research. Credit: Courtesy of MSU

“Now we know Sox2 is the first indicator that a cell is pluripotent,” Ralston said. “In fact, Sox2 may be the pre-pluripotent gene. We show that Sox2 is detectable in just one or two cells of the embryo earlier than previously thought, and earlier than other known stem cell genes.”

The second discovery is that Sox2 has broader influence than initially thought. The gene appears to help coordinate the cells that make the fetus and the other cells that establish the pregnancy and nurture the fetus.

Future research will focus on studying exactly why Sox2 is playing this role. The team has strong insights, but they want to go deeper, Ralston said.

“Reprogramming is amazing, but it’s inefficient,” she said. “What we’ve learned from the embryo is how to improve efficiency, a process that could someday lead to generating for clinical purposes with a much higher success rate.”

Avoid Male Infertility: 5 Ways To Boost The Health Of Your Sperm

Here are five ways to boost and maintain healthy sperm. 

Men dealing with male infertility often wonder what preventive steps they could have taken to keep their sperm healthy.

In certain cases, there was really nothing the man could have done differently. Male infertility can be the result of medical conditions, infection, or a family history. For other men, there were certain lifestyle choices they could’ve made and environmental risks they could’ve avoided to keep their sperm healthy. First of all, healthy sperm does not only mean the number of sperm a man produces. Healthy sperm is determined by quantity, quality, and movement. To make sure men are putting their best foot forward when it comes to producing healthy sperm, let’s take a look at five ways to avoid male infertility.

1. Sleep More

Sleep is recommended as a preventive measure to help avoid everything, from obesity to depression, so why not infertility? A recent study conducted at the University of Southern Denmark assessed the sleep schedule, sleep interruptions, and sleep habits of 953 Danish men in their late teens to early 20s. Researchers also measured the size of each participant’s testicles and gathered sperm sample to analyze sperm count and motility — ability to move actively and spontaneously. Men who reported a lack of sleep or sleep disturbances, on average, suffered from low sperm count, low testosterone levels, and smaller testicular size compared to men who got more shut-eye. Plan your bedtimes a little earlier, fellas.

2. Keep Your Laptop Off Of Your Lap

In today’s world, staying connected and up-to-date on current affairs is all too important. This means never having our laptops or smartphones more than an arm’s length away. For men, this also means the constant threat of infertility. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility set out to determine what effect Wi-Fi connection had on male infertility once and for all. Researchers from Argentina gathered 29 sperm samples from healthy men who sat with their Wi-Fi connected laptops on their laps for four hours. After ruling out temperature as the cause for sperm damage by way of an air-conditioning system, the research team found that radiation given off by the laptop’s Wi-Fi connection resulted in DNA damage and less sperm motility.

3. Wear These Boxers

If men are going to ignore warnings on laptop and smartphone use too close to their junk, then they should buy a pair of RadiaShield Men’s Boxer Briefs. These nifty little undergarments for men will only cost you $49 and promise to protect the front and back of male reproductive organs from radiation exposure. In fact, testing carried out by an FCC-certified independent laboratory confirmed that RadiaShield boxer briefs can protect sperm quality, quantity, and movement with 99.9 percent Shielding Effectiveness.

4. Eat Carrots And Walnuts

It seems that a man’s diet can play a significant role in maintaining sperm health. A pair of recent studies claim that eating walnuts and carrots can help boost sperm quality and performance. The first study, conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that men who added 75 grams of whole-shelled walnuts to their daily diet were able to boost the overall quality of their sperm. Researchers attributed this finding to a-linolenic acid, a natural plant source of omega-3. The second study, published in Fertility and Sterility, gives men another reason to eat their veggies. Around 200 healthy men were able to boost sperm quantity and quality up to eight percent just by adding yellow- and orange-colored fruits and vegetables — most notably carrots — to their diet.

5. Don’t Eat Bacon

While eating more carrots and walnuts can boost sperm health, the same cannot be said about bacon. Actually the opposite is true. A study presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s 2013 Annual Meeting in Boston revealed that various types of red meat — especially bacon — reduce male sperm count. Harvard University researchers surveyed 156 men with infertility concerns regarding their consumption of processed meat, red meat, white meat, poultry, and fish. Men who ate a half portion or more of processed meat a day had 5.5 percent “normal” sperm compared to 7.2 percent in men who ate less than half a portion each day.

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