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How human sperm really swim: New research challenges centuries-old assumption

The sperm tail moves very rapidly in 3D, not from side-to-side in 2D as it was believed. Credit: polymaths-lab.com A breakthrough in fertility science by researchers from Bristol and Mexico has shattered the universally accepted view of how sperm ‘swim’.

More than three hundred years after Antonie van Leeuwenhoek used one of the earliest microscopes to describe human sperm as having a “tail, which, when swimming, lashes with a snakelike movement, like eels in water”, scientists have revealed this is an optical illusion .

Using state-of-the-art 3-D microscopy and mathematics, Dr. Hermes Gadelha from the University of Bristol, Dr. Gabriel Corkidi and Dr. Alberto Darszon from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, have pioneered the reconstruction of the true movement of the sperm tail in 3-D.

Using a high-speed camera capable of recording over 55,000 frames in one second, and a microscope stage with a piezoelectric device to move the sample up and down at an incredibly high rate, they were able to scan the sperm swimming freely in 3-D.

The ground-breaking study, published in the journal Science Advances , reveals the sperm tail is in fact wonky and only wiggles on one side. While this should mean the sperm’s one-sided stroke would […]

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