Sperm cells are remarkable cells.  They are small but powerful, and they are highly specialised for their important purpose, which is to fertilise egg cells. Think you know all about sperm? Think again…

  • Discovery

    Sperm cells, or spermatozoa, were discovered back in 1677 by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. He was a Dutch microbiologist and is now known as the ‘Father of Microbiology’.

  • Sperm or semen?

    Sperm and semen do not mean the same thing. Semen, also called seminal fluid, is the fluid which contains sperm cells.

  • They are small but powerful

    In humans, sperm cells consist of a flat, disc shaped head 5 µm by 3 µm and a tail 50 µm long. So 20 in a row are 1 milimeter long 1.

  • Strong swimmers

    The tail of the sperm cell is called a flagellum. It moves, or flagellates, which propels the sperm cell by whipping in an elliptical cone. It moves at a rate of 1–3 mm/minute in humans. That is equivalent to 1.2 cm per hour and almost 30 cm per day.

  • They don’t always swim

    Sperm cells are generally not mobile until ejaculation. They only start swimming when they get inside the female reproductive tract. They also have an extra burst of energy which makes them speed up when they get nearer the egg.

  • Only one sperm wins the race

    Sperm cells race to reach the egg cell. The winner fuses with the egg cell and releases enzymes into the outer layer of the egg, called the zona pellucida. This stops the egg from binding with any more sperm cells. It is important that only one sperm fertilises the egg to ensure that the correct amount of genetic material is present to produce healthy cells.

  • Men produce lots of sperm

    The average man makes a staggering 1,500 sperm cells per second 2. This is because fertilisation is an inefficient process. A man produces many sperm cells to increase the likelihood of just one sperm cell successfully fertilising an egg cell. This developed as an evolutionary advantage, as men who produced more sperm than their competitors were more likely to pass their genes on to the next generation.

  • Quantity but not quality?

    The quality of human sperm is surprisingly poor in comparison to other mammals 3. In fact in fertile men, up to 85% of ejaculate may consist of abnormal sperm. Furthermore research has shown that the sperm counts of men in Western countries have fallen over the last 40 years by more than 50% 4. Scientists believe that lifestyle factors are to blame including smoking, obesity and stress.


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Sperm Freezing

  • Origins

    The technique of sperm freezing and storage (also known as sperm banking) was developed in the 1950s. However it actually originated in 1776 when an Italian priest called Lazaro Spallanzani recorded the effect of snow on human sperm.

  • Longest storage time

    The longest reported successful storage time for human sperm is 40 years 5. Scientists can preserve the sperm for such long periods of time because the low temperatures freeze the chemical reactions in the cells.

  • Not all survive

    Unfortunately not all the sperm cells will survive the process of freezing and thawing.

  • No side effects

    There are no side effects for men who undergo sperm freezing. Furthermore, babies produced from frozen sperm are just as healthy as those produced from fresh sperm.

How to produce the best sperm

  • Real sex is better

    Sperm samples in  sexual intercourse contain 70-120% more sperm. Furthermore these sperm cells have higher motility in comparison to sperm samples obtained via masturbation. Sexual intercourse also generates a 25–45% increase in ejaculate volume, mainly by increased prostate secretion. This intercourse advantage is even greater for men with oligospermia.

  • Boxers are best

    Boxer shorts are better for sperm quality than tighter fitting underwear. The main reason for this is temperature. Higher temperatures can be harmful for sperm cells.

  • Avoid toxins

    To ensure the best all round sperm quality, it is important to minimise exposure to toxins. This means staying away from nicotine, alcohol, and processed foods for a minimum of three months.

  • Take a supplement

    Men should make sure they include the proven male fertility micronutrients in their diet. The most convenient and effective way to do this is to take a male fertility supplement.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Smith DJ, Gaffney EA, Blake JR, Kirkman-Brown JC. Human sperm accumulation near surfaces: a simulation study. Journal of Fluid Mechanics. 2009. 621: 289-320. Available from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-fluid-mechanics/article/human-sperm-accumulation-near-surfaces-a-simulation-study/9361C9441405D4D64BB1A2BC3D9FF564
  2. How A Man Produces 1500 Sperm In A Second. National Geographic. 2018. Available from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100318-men-sperm-1500-stem-cells-second-male-birth-control/
  3. Aitken RJ, Sawyer D. The human spermatozoon- not waving but drowning. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2003. 518:85-98. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12817679
  4. Men’s Sperm Counts Are Down Worldwide: Study. Time. 2017 Available from: http://time.com/4871540/infertility-men-sperm-count/
  5. Szell AZ, Bierbaum RC, Hazelrigg WB, Chetkowski RJ. Live births from frozen human semen stored for 40 years. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics. 2013. 30(6):743-744. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3696447/