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Sperm Quality Control

February 11, 2008

New research suggests how defective sperm are tagged for destruction.


Quality control for sperm. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Men produce hundreds of millions of sperm every day, so it’s not surprising that they crank out some lemons. Now, studies of animal sperm have brought evidence of a rigorous quality control system. The research team included animal scientist Peter Sutovsky of the University of Missouri-Columbia. He says a protein called ubiquitin apparently recognizes and binds to sperm that don’t meet standards, either because of DNA damage or structural flaws.

PETER SUTOVSKY (University of Missouri-Columbia):
The sperm cell has two heads, or two tails, has grossly malformed, misshaped head, has coiled tail: those are the most common, most obvious defects.

Once tagged, the sperm are destroyed and their proteins recycled. The findings could be useful to fertility clinics, who could look for ubiquitin tags to sort good sperm from bad in their samples. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.