So far, 14 genes that contribute to the disorder have been identified. But there could be dozens more: other complex trait disorders, such as Type II diabetes, have 70 different genes that contribute to the disease.
The process is slow, Crowley said, because you need large numbers of people -- 10,000 patients, say, and 10,000 controls. And the incidence of patients who have no puberty, whose genes are extremely helpful in solving the puzzle, is 1 in 50,000.
Ojeda's team took a different approach: They looked at various genes that might be candidates for affecting puberty and tested them in animals. But that approach is also time consuming because it involves such a great number of genes, and the ones that may provide the key are probably the ones no one has thought of, Crowley said.
Puberty starts when a hormone in the brain causes the pituitary gland to release more hormones. Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) cause the ovaries to produce estrogen or testosterone, prompting physical changes.