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Apr 20, 2017 11:03 AM EDT

A researcher from Washington State University has discovered that both the male and female have a role in creating the right conditions for fertility. It was noted that a mammal's sperm would find it easier to fertilize an egg if it swims through water and not goo.

Studying female mice, Wipawee Winuthayanon, an assistant professor in WSU's School of Molecular Biosciences, found that their uterus contains enzymes that can break down semen. This makes it less gel-like, more watery and easier to swim in.

It was previously thought that semen is broken down by enzymes from the prostate gland. The study has been published in the journal "PLOS Genetics."

In an article by Medical Electronic Systems, semen should liquefy within about 20 to 30 minutes of ejaculation. Delayed liquefaction may be a symptom of problems with the prostate, the seminal vesicles or the bulbourethral glands, also known as the male accessory glands.

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Semen, when ejaculated, has the characteristics of being thick and gelatinous to help it stick to the cervix. Liquefaction, as mentioned above, enables it to swim better.

Winuthayanon discovered that female mice also produce the enzyme with the use of estrogen to induce the process. It was also found that semen failed to liquefy in its uterus when a female mouse lacked a gene to make this happen.

This is the first evidence of how the interplay between semen and the female reproductive tract could have an impact on fertility. The study highlights the physical changes that semen goes through and the roles of secretions in both the male and female reproductive tracts.

The researchers said in a post on WSU's official website that the information will advance research on semen liquefaction in the female reproductive tract, which is something that has never been explored. It could also lead to the creation of diagnostic tools for unexplained infertility cases and non-invasive contraception technologies.

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