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Eggs have own biological clock

Aging mechanisms in worms’ reproductive cells differ compared with rest of body

4:45pm, December 6, 2011

DENVER — Egg cells age differently than cells in the rest of the body, a new study shows.

The finding, from experiments with roundworms presented December 5 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, might one day lead to ways to predict how long women will stay fertile or even to extend a woman’s fertile years.

Princeton University biologist Coleen Murphy and her colleagues study aging in the roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans. The worms typically live for about 21 days, but fertility drops off sharply after about a week and the worms can no longer reproduce after they are about 9 days old. Even though 9-day-old worms still have plenty of eggs left, the egg cells, also called oocytes, are of such poor quality they can’t produce embryos.

Women experience a similar sharp decline in fertility starting in their late 30s. This drop-off in reproductive capability is one of the earliest signs of aging.

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