What you need to know about sperm

Sperm may be tiny cells, but reproductive obligations lie at 50 percent. Males Produce millions of these cells every day, but only one is required to fertilize an egg and create a life.

This article outlines what sperm is, where it heals, and the factors that affect its ability to fertilize an egg.

What is sperm?

Doctor and his male patient
To a person struggling for conceive with their partner, a doctor might recommend a semen analysis.

Sperm is the cell or gamete for male reproduction. The word gamete means the cell is half of a whole. It occurs in a human embryo when a sperm interacts with a female gamete, or an egg.

When examining a sperm cell under a microscope, scientists usually will define the three sections that follow:

The head

The head of the sperm includes chromatine, which is the chromosome-forming DNA material.

The human sperm cell and the human egg cell typically contain 23 chromosomes each. That results in an embryo with 46 chromosomes when the sperm and egg combine.

Covering the sperm head is a cap which doctors call an acrosome. The acrosome contains proteins, which help the sperm penetrate an egg’s outer shell.

The midsection

The middle section of the sperm contains the mitochondria producing energy. These complex structures give the energy needed to move the sperm cell.

The tail

The purpose of the sperm tail, or flagellum, is to allow movement. The tail propels the sperm forward, towards an egg for fertilization.

Where is it produced? 

Testicles are the masculine reproductive organs responsible for sperm production. Females also produce testosterone, a sex hormone that is responsible for many of its male characteristics.

Spermatogenesis is the process in which sperm cells are formed. This process begins within the testicles of the seminiferous tubules. These tubules include the sperm cells which are called sperm cells.

Spermatocytes undergo several divisional rounds to transform the cells into spermatids. Spermatides are young sperm that must develop and mature before sperm cells form.

The male body takes about 74 days to produce new sperm cells according to an article published in 2013. This time will vary from operson to another.

How long is it viable? 

On average, a male produces approximately 73 million sperm cells per milliliter of ejaculate.

Once an individual releases their sperm, they can live in the female vagina for up to 5 days.

Sperm count and motility    

The sperm count and sperm motility are two key factors which may affect male fertility.

Sperm count refers to the sperm count present in male ejaculate. Sperm motility refers to sperm being able to move towards an egg.

Sperm count

Every day, the testicles contain millions of sperm but this amount can vary considerably.

Research suggests the size of the testis has no effect on how much sperm the male produces every day.

However, the same research suggests regular production of sperm can vary depending on the ethnicity of an individual.

The analysis gives the following daily average levels of sperm production for males of the following ethnicities:

  • Hispanic: Between 231 million and 398 million sperm per day.
  • White: Around 193 million to 318 million sperm per day.
  • Chinese: Between 70 million and 173 million sperm per day.

If a person has tried to conceive without success with their partner for a year, a doctor may recommend an examination of the semen. This includes the person ejaculating into a jar or a cup. The semen then goes to test laboratory.

A semen analysis assesses the sperm count and the following factors:

  • semen volume
  • sperm concentration
  • sperm motility
  • sperm morphology

Many people in their ejaculate may have little to no sperm. This does not always mean that sperm is not produced by their testicles.

The disorder, called azoospermia by doctors, may arise from low sperm production or a problem, such as blockage, that prevents sperm delivery to the ejaculate.

Sperm motility

Motility is important in the fertilization of an egg. The egg has no cells which allow it to move. Consequently, it is up to the sperm to propel itself towards the egg.

An estimated 85 percent of infertile males that produce sperm, according to a 2015 report. A sperm, though, is not good enough, or is not working well enough to fertilize an egg.

Traditionally, sperm quality and motility diminish as an individual ages. Other factors which can affect the quality and motility of the sperm include:

  • inactive lifestyle
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • smoking cigarettes
  • taking artificial steroids, including workout supplements
  • use of illegal drugs
  • heart disease or heart problems
  • prolonged exposure to heat, such as saunas or hot tubs

Modifying certain lifestyle factors could, therefore, help some people to improve their fertility.

Sperm banking

People can sometimes collect their sperm to be used for artificial insemination. These are intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.

IUI involves putting the sperm directly into the female uterus to help fertilize. IVF involves putting the sperm and egg together in a laboratory and moving the rising embryo into the uterus.

The male ejaculates to a sterile jar to obtain a sample of the sperm. The semen sample will then be collected by a laboratory technician for use with IUI or IVF or freezed for preservation. Later, the laboratory could thaw the sample for use.

A person collects samples of their sperm for cryopreservation, or sperm banking, before donation, and then undergo rigorous testing for infectious diseases and genetic conditions.

Summary     

Sperm cells are reproductive cells of males found in the testicles. Sperm cells swim towards a female reproductive cell called an oocyte, or egg, and fertilize it.

The sperm count and sperm motility are two key factors which may affect male fertility. Those with fertility problems may benefit from a semen analysis. The examination will help identify any possible problems with the sperm.

Occasionally, a person may want to provide an assisted reproductive technology (ART) sperm sample for use, like IUI or IVF.

Couples wishing to try ART should get more advice from their doctor.

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