Katnal1 - a gene responsible for sperm development has been discovered. Researchers say that this could lead to advances in non-hormonal male contraceptives.

"If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive," said Dr Lee Smith, Reader in Genetic Endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh.

"The important thing is that the effects of such a drug would be reversible because Katnal1 only affects sperm cells in the later stages of development, so it would not hinder the early stages of sperm production and the overall ability to produce sperm," Smith said.

During lab tests the researchers demonstrated that Katnal1 was required for male fertility. They modified a set of mice in a way that they did not have any Katnal1. The result was that these mice became infertile.

"Although other research is being carried out into non-hormonal male contraceptives, identification of a gene that controls sperm production in the way Katnal1 does is a unique and significant step forward in our understanding of testis biology," Smith said.

A study published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism says that inhibiting Vitamin A metabolism can lead to development of male contraceptive.

According to the researchers, Katnal1 is an important regulator of the process that breaks down and builds scaffolding structures called the microtubules. These microtubules provide support and nutrition to the sperms. Thus, if Katnal1 is removed the sperm do not mature.

"The key in developing a non-hormonal contraceptive for men is that the molecular target needs to be very specific for either sperm or other cells in the testicle which are involved in sperm production. If they are not, then such a contraceptive could have unwanted side effects on other cells and tissues in the body and may even be dangerous," Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield told BBC.

The research was carried out by researchers at University of Edinburgh and is published in PLoS Genetics.