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For other uses, see Sperm (disambiguation).
Diagram of a human sperm cell

Sperm is the male reproductive cell and is derived from the Greek word (σπέρμα) sperma (meaning "seed"). In the types of sexual reproduction known as anisogamy and its subtype oogamy, there is a marked difference in the size of the gametes with the smaller one being termed the "male" or sperm cell. A uniflagellar sperm cell that is motile is referred to as a spermatozoon, whereas a non-motile sperm cell is referred to as a spermatium. Sperm cells cannot divide and have a limited life span, but after fusion with egg cells during fertilization, a new organism begins developing, starting as a totipotent zygote.[citation needed] The human sperm cell is haploid, so that its 23 chromosomes can join the 23 chromosomes of the female egg to form a diploid cell. In mammals, sperm develops in the testicles and is released from the penis. It is also possible to extract sperm through TESE. Some sperm banks hold up to 170 litres (37 imp gal; 45 US gal) of sperm.[1]

Video of human sperm cells recorded by an affordable home microscope.

Sperm in animals

Further information: Spermatozoon


Sperm and egg fusing

The mammalian sperm cell consists of a head, a midpiece and a tail. The head contains the nucleus with densely coiled chromatin fibres, surrounded anteriorly by an acrosome, which contains enzymes used for penetrating the female egg. The midpiece has a central filamentous core with many mitochondria spiralled around it, used for ATP production for the journey through the female cervix, uterus and uterine tubes. The tail or "flagellum" executes the lashing movements that propel the spermatocyte.[citation needed]

During fertilization, the sperm provides three essential parts to the oocyte: (1) a signalling or activating factor, which causes the metabolically dormant oocyte to activate; (2) the haploid paternal genome; (3) the centrosome, which is responsible for maintaining the microtubule system.[2]

Although semen contains millions of sperm, the egg will admit only one. The other ones will soon die and be absorbed.


The spermatozoa of animals are produced through spermatogenesis inside the male gonads (testicles) via meiotic division. The initial spermatozoon process takes around 70 days to complete. The spermatid stage is where the sperm develops the familiar tail. The next stage where it becomes fully mature takes around 60 days when it is called a spermatozoan.[3] Sperm cells are carried out of the male body in a fluid known as semen. Human sperm cells can survive within the female reproductive tract for more than 5 days post coitus.[4] Semen is produced in the seminal vesicles, prostate gland and urethral glands.

Sperm quality

Human sperm stained for semen quality testing.
Main article: Semen quality

Sperm quantity and quality are the main parameters in semen quality, which is a measure of the ability of semen to accomplish fertilization. Thus, in humans, it is a measure of fertility in a man. The genetic quality of sperm, as well as its volume and motility, all typically decrease with age.[5] (See paternal age effect.)

DNA damages present in sperm cells in the period after meiosis but before fertilization may be repaired in the fertilized egg, but if not repaired, can have serious deleterious effects on fertility and the developing embryo. Human sperm cells are particularly vulnerable to free radical attack and the generation of oxidative DNA damage.[6] (see e.g. 8-Oxo-2'-deoxyguanosine)

The postmeiotic phase of mouse spermatogenesis is very sensitive to environmental genotoxic agents, because as male germ cells form mature sperm they progressively lose the ability to repair DNA damage.[7] Irradiation of male mice during late spermatogenesis can induce damage that persists for at least 7 days in the fertilizing sperm cells, and disruption of maternal DNA double-strand break repair pathways increases sperm cell-derived chromosomal aberrations.[8] Treatment of male mice with melphalan, a bifunctional alkylating agent frequently employed in chemotherapy, induces DNA lesions during meiosis that may persist in an unrepaired state as germ cells progress though DNA repair-competent phases of spermatogenic development.[9] Such unrepaired DNA damages in sperm cells, after fertilization, can lead to offspring with various abnormalities.

Market for human sperm

Further information: Sperm donation

On the global market, Denmark has a well-developed system of human sperm export. This success mainly comes from the reputation of Danish sperm donors for being of high quality[10] and, in contrast with the law in the other Nordic countries, gives donors the choice of being either anonymous or non-anonymous to the receiving couple.[10] Furthermore, Nordic sperm donors tend to be tall and highly educated[11] and have altruistic motives for their donations,[11] partly due to the relatively low monetary compensation in Nordic countries. More than 50 countries worldwide are importers of Danish sperm, including Paraguay, Canada, Kenya, and Hong Kong.[10] However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US has banned import of any sperm, motivated by a risk of transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, although such a risk is insignificant, since artificial insemination is very different from the route of transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.[12] The prevalence of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease for donors is at most one in a million, and if the donor was a carrier, the infectious proteins would still have to cross the blood-testis barrier to make transmission possible.[12]


Sperm were first observed in 1677 by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek[13] using a microscope, he described them as being animalcules (little animals), probably due to his belief in preformationism, which thought that each sperm contained a fully formed but small human.[citation needed]

Forensic analysis

Ejaculated fluids are detected by ultraviolet light, irrespective of the structure or colour of the surface.[14] Sperm heads, e.g. from vaginal swabs, are still detected by microscopy using the "Christmas Tree Stain" method, i.e., Kernechtrot-Picroindigocarmine (KPIC) staining.[15][16]

Sperm in plants

Sperm cells in algal and many plant gametophytes are produced in male gametangia (antheridia) via mitotic division. In flowering plants, sperm nuclei are produced inside pollen.[citation needed]

Motile sperm cells

Motile sperm cells of algae and seedless plants.[17]

Motile sperm cells typically move via flagella and require a water medium in order to swim toward the egg for fertilization. In animals most of the energy for sperm motility is derived from the metabolism of fructose carried in the seminal fluid. This takes place in the mitochondria located in the sperm's midpiece (at the base of the sperm head). These cells cannot swim backwards due to the nature of their propulsion. The uniflagellated sperm cells (with one flagellum) of animals are referred to as spermatozoa, and are known to vary in size.[citation needed]

Motile sperm are also produced by many protists and the gametophytes of bryophytes, ferns and some gymnosperms such as cycads and ginkgo. The sperm cells are the only flagellated cells in the life cycle of these plants. In many ferns and lycophytes, they are multi-flagellated (carrying more than one flagellum).[17]

In nematodes, the sperm cells are amoeboid and crawl, rather than swim, towards the egg cell.[18]

Non-motile sperm cells

Non-motile sperm cells called spermatia lack flagella and therefore cannot swim. Spermatia are produced in a spermatangium.[17]

Because spermatia cannot swim, they depend on their environment to carry them to the egg cell. Some red algae, such as Polysiphonia, produce non-motile spermatia that are spread by water currents after their release.[17] The spermatia of rust fungi are covered with a sticky substance. They are produced in flask-shaped structures containing nectar, which attract flies that transfer the spermatia to nearby hyphae for fertilization in a mechanism similar to insect pollination in flowering plants.[19]

Fungal spermatia (also called pycniospores, especially in the Uredinales) may be confused with conidia. Conidia are spores that germinate independently of fertilization, whereas spermatia are gametes that are required for fertilization. In some fungi, such as Neurospora crassa, spermatia are identical to microconidia as they can perform both functions of fertilization as well as giving rise to new organisms without fertilization.[20]

Sperm nuclei

In many land plants, including most gymnosperms and all angiosperms, the male gametophytes (pollen grains) are the primary mode of dispersal, for example via wind or insect pollination, eliminating the need for water to bridge the gap between male and female. Each pollen grain contains a spermatogenous (generative) cell. Once the pollen lands on the stigma of a receptive flower, it germinates and starts growing a pollen tube through the carpel. Before the tube reaches the ovule, the nucleus of the generative cell in the pollen grain divides and gives rise to two sperm nuclei which are then discharged through the tube into the ovule for fertilization.[17]

In some protists, fertilization also involves sperm nuclei, rather than cells, migrating toward the egg cell through a fertilization tube. Oomycetes form sperm nuclei in a syncytical antheridium surrounding the egg cells. The sperm nuclei reach the eggs through fertilization tubes, similar to the pollen tube mechanism in plants.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Come inside: the world's biggest sperm bank retrieved 4 August 2013
  2. ^ Hewitson, Laura & Schatten, Gerald P. (2003). "The biology of fertilization in humans". In Patrizio, Pasquale et al. A color atlas for human assisted reproduction: laboratory and clinical insights. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-7817-3769-2. Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  3. ^ Semen and sperm quality
  4. ^ Gould JE, Overstreet JW and Hanson FW (1984) Assessment of human sperm function after recovery from the female reproductive tract. Biol Reprod 31,888–894.
  5. ^ Gurevich, Rachel (06-10-2008). "Does Age Affect Male Fertility?". Retrieved 14 February 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ Gavriliouk D, Aitken RJ (2015). "Damage to Sperm DNA Mediated by Reactive Oxygen Species: Its Impact on Human Reproduction and the Health Trajectory of Offspring". Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 868: 23–47. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-18881-2_2. PMID 26178844. 
  7. ^ Marchetti F, Wyrobek AJ (2008). "DNA repair decline during mouse spermiogenesis results in the accumulation of heritable DNA damage". DNA Repair (Amst.) 7 (4): 572–81. doi:10.1016/j.dnarep.2007.12.011. PMID 18282746. 
  8. ^ Marchetti F, Essers J, Kanaar R, Wyrobek AJ (2007). "Disruption of maternal DNA repair increases sperm-derived chromosomal aberrations". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 104 (45): 17725–9. doi:10.1073/pnas.0705257104. PMC 2077046. PMID 17978187. 
  9. ^ Marchetti F, Bishop J, Gingerich J, Wyrobek AJ (2015). "Meiotic interstrand DNA damage escapes paternal repair and causes chromosomal aberrations in the zygote by maternal misrepair". Sci Rep 5: 7689. doi:10.1038/srep07689. PMC 4286742. PMID 25567288. 
  10. ^ a b c Assisted Reproduction in the Nordic Countries
  11. ^ a b FDA Rules Block Import of Prized Danish Sperm Posted Aug 13, 08 7:37 AM CDT in World, Science & Health
  12. ^ a b The God of Sperm By Steven Kotler
  13. ^ "Timeline: Assisted reproduction and birth control". CBC News. Retrieved 2006-04-06. 
  14. ^ Anja Fiedler, Mark Benecke; et al. "Detection of Semen (Human and Boar) and Saliva on Fabrics by a Very High Powered UV-/VIS-Light Source" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  15. ^ Allery, J. P.; Telmon, N.; Mieusset, R.; Blanc, A.; Rougé, D. (2001). "Cytological detection of spermatozoa: Comparison of three staining methods". Journal of forensic sciences 46 (2): 349–351. PMID 11305439. 
  16. ^ Illinois State Police/President's DNA Initiative. "The Presidents's DNA Initiative: Semen Stain Identification: Kernechtrot" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Raven, Peter H.; Ray F. Evert; Susan E. Eichhorn (2005). Biology of Plants, 7th Edition. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company Publishers. ISBN 0-7167-1007-2. 
  18. ^ Bottino D, Mogilner A, Roberts T, Stewart M, Oster G (2002). "How nematode sperm crawl". J. Cell. Sci. 115 (Pt 2): 367–84. PMID 11839788. 
  19. ^ Sumbali, Geeta (2005). The Fungi. Alpha Science Int'l Ltd. ISBN 1-84265-153-6. 
  20. ^ Maheshwari R (1999). "Microconidia of Neurospora crassa". Fungal Genet. Biol. 26 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1006/fgbi.1998.1103. PMID 10072316. 

External links

Preceded by
Stages of human development
Sperm cell + Oocyte
Succeeded by