Animal rights activists like to claim that medical research on non-humans is pointless since non-humans are too different from human beings. While there are massive differences, which researchers take into account, it is amazing just how much human physiology has in common with something as tiny as the tiny sea squirt. Specifically, the sea squirts reproductive system is very similar to that of human beings and researchers at Newcastle University are hoping that studying the sea squirt might reveal important clues to better understanding human reproduction and, more specifically, some of the causes of infertility.
In this case researchers are examining how the sperm of sea squirts fertilizes eggs. Researchers hope that they will be able to isolate the protein present in the sperm that initiates the fertilization process. Surprisingly there are still very large unknowns about how this process proceeds in human beings.
One of the problems with studying the problem in human beings are legal and ethical issues in experimenting on human eggs and sperm, as well as difficulties in screening human sperm and eggs for any number of diseases that might affect the results of the experiment. “We think we have nicely circumvented all those problems by going after the sea squirt activating factor first,” Dr. Keith Jones told the BBC. “We are hoping that we can identify the factor within a couple of years, and hopefully we can come up with the human equivalent within a matter of months.”
Sea squirts aid fertility research. The BBC, November 23, 2000.