Released By: Australian Synchrotron
Release Date: Sun 30 November 2008

Australian researchers have developed a new way of determining the maturity of eggs. The technique, which has been trialled on mouse eggs using the infrared beamline at the Australian Synchrotron, was published recently in the international journal Analytical Chemistry.

The researchers Dr Bayden Wood and Dr Orly-Lacham Kaplan, both from Monash University, are now working with human eggs and a potential benchtop instrument for use in IVF clinics.

The paper was the first published from research performed on the infrared microscope beamline at the Australian Synchrotron.

"Using the bright, focussed infrared light of the synchrotron, we discovered that the fat and protein deposits inside immature eggs differed in appearance and composition to those in mature eggs," says Bayden.

And the resulting infrared 'map' of the egg provides a molecular fingerprint that can be used to classify eggs according to the stage of maturity.

"At the moment, the only way we can assess whether eggs are viable is to fertilise them and then transfer them to the woman's womb to see if a viable pregnancy occurs," he explains. "This method offers a new approach for screening whether eggs are viable before continuing on with the IVF process."

The scientists are now looking at whether the technique will work on human eggs. Ultimately, the new technique could allow IVF doctors to remove a batch of immature eggs from a woman's ovary for maturation in vitro. The maturity of the eggs could then be monitored by checking individual eggs under an infrared microscope.

"Our beamline allowed the team to look at the egg cells in greater detail than previous studies were able to achieve," says Dr Mark Tobin, the principal scientist for the infrared beamline at the Australian Synchrotron.

"Infrared spectroscopy looks at the chemical bonds within molecules, allowing researchers to identify different chemical components inside the cell without having to use any external dyes or labels to visualise them," he says.

While the routine use of a synchrotron to check egg viability is not practical, the technique provides a gold standard for what can be done.

"It gives us a glimpse into what the instruments of the future will be able to do," says Bayden.

Bayden Wood is from Monash University's Centre for Biospectroscopy. Orly Lacham-Kaplan is from the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories.

The discovery is one of two recently published that use the Synchrotron's infrared beamline. The other deals with better measurement of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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