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Surprising tail shape discovered in human sperm

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A mysterious, spiral-shaped nanostructure in the tails of sperm was discovered by researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

After decades of studies about the extraordinary abilities and the anatomy of human sperm, the newfound spiral may give sperm tails a boost, helping them swim quickly and in the right direction.


A man can produces 1,500 sperm in a second, and a single discharge can contain more than 250 million sperm cells.

When the researchers looked at detailed images of the very tip of the tail of the sperm they discovered a structure that had never been noticed before and that could allow the sperm’s energy to be channelled into swimming quickly towards the egg.

To get a better look at the sperm tail , researchers were able to view 3D images of individual structures within human sperm, using a Nobel Proze – winning microscope technique known as cryo-electron tomography. Cryogenic electron tomography combines electron microscopy with CT scans. In a cryo-ET study, a single cell, tissue, or organism, is flash-frozen. In the method flash-freezing biological samples are included, thinning them out and imaging with a powerful electron microscope. Freezing the sample ensures that it stays hydrated and as close to natural as possible by the time it’s studied by scientists.

‘[We spotted] a spiral that stretched in from the tip of the sperm and was about a tenth of the length of the tail,’ says David Zabeo, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg who carried out the research.

‘Since the cells are depicted frozen in ice, without the addition of chemicals which can obscure the smallest cell structures, even individual proteins inside the cell can be observed,’ study lead author Johanna Hoog from the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology said.

This discovery provides important insights into how sperm’s structure affects its movements, why some seminal swimmers are more successful than others and It could also lead to new treatments for male

This finding could provide, and help to develop new drugs for infertility problems and contraception.

Cryo-ET technology shows promise for the future.

“There are not many applications of the technique that have been explored yet,” Davide Zabeo said. “This shows how much can be learned and observed just by using these techniques”, he added.

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