The term sperm is derived from the Greek word spermos (meaning "seed") and refers to the male reproductive cells. Sperm cells are the smaller gametes involved in fertilization in anisogamy and oogamy. In these types of sexual reproduction, there is a marked difference in the size of the gametes with the smaller one being termed the "male" or sperm cell. A uniflagellar sperm cell that is motile is also referred to as spermatozoon, whereas a non-motile sperm cell is referred to as spermatium. Sperm cells cannot divide and have a limited life span, but they can fuse with egg cells during fertilization to form a totipotent zygote with the potential to develop into a new organism. Sperm can live for up to 3 days inside the female unless it is exposed to air or is mixed with another liquid.
The spermatozoa of animals are produced through spermatogenesis inside the male gonads (testicles) through meiosis. Sperm cells in algal and many plant gametophytes are produced in male gametangia (antheridia) through mitosis. In flowering plants, sperm nuclei are produced inside pollen.
Motile sperm cells typically move via flagella and require water in order to swim toward the egg for fertilization. The uniflagellated sperm cells (with one flagellum) produced in most animals are referred to as spermatozoa, and are known to vary in size.
Motile sperm are also produced by many protists and the gametophytes of bryophytes, ferns and some gymnosperms such as cycads and ginkgo. The sperm cells are the only flagellated cells in the life cycle of these plants. In many ferns and lycophytes, they are multi-flagellated (carrying more than one flagellum).
In nematodes, the sperm cells are amoeboid and crawl, rather than swim, towards the egg cell.
Non-motile sperm cells called spermatia lack flagella and therefore cannot swim. Spermatia are produced in a spermatangium.
Because spermatia cannot swim, they depend on their environment to carry them to the egg cell. Some red algae, such as Polysiphonia, produce non-motile spermatia that are spread by water currents after their release. The spermatia of rust fungi are covered with a sticky substance. They are produced in flask-shaped structures containing nectar, which attract flies that transfer the spermatia to nearby hyphae for fertilization in a mechanism similar to insect pollination in flowering plants.
Fungal spermatia (also called pycnidiospores) may be confused with conidia. Conidia are spores that germinate independently of fertilization, whereas spermatia are gametes that are required for fertilization. In some fungi, such as Neurospora crassa, spermatia are identical with microconidia as they can perform both functions of fertilization as well as giving rise to new organisms without fertilization.
In many land plants, including most gymnosperms and all angiosperms, the male gametophytes (pollen grains) are the primary mode of dispersal, for example via wind or insect pollination, eliminating the need for water to bridge the gap between male and female. Each pollen grain contains a spermatogenous (generative) cell. Once the pollen lands on the stigma of a receptive flower, it germinates and starts growing a pollen tube through the carpel. Before the tube reaches the ovule, the nucleus of the generative cell in the pollen grain divides and gives rise to two sperm nuclei which are then discharged through the tube into the ovule for fertilization.
In some protists, fertilization also involves sperm nuclei, rather than cells, migrating toward the egg cell through a fertilization tube. Oomycetes form sperm nuclei in a syncytical antheridium surrounding the egg cells. The sperm nuclei reach the eggs through fertilization tubes, similar to the pollen tube mechanism in plants.
A study by the University of California has suggested that folate may protect sperm cells from aneuploidy.
In the western world, sperm banks sell human sperm samples to licenced doctors to perform artificial insemination or research. The price is around $300 in the US and less in Europe. On the global market, Denmark has a well developed system of sperm export. This success mainly comes from the reputation of Danish sperm donors for being of high quality and, in contrast with the law in the other Nordic countries, gives donors the choice to remain anonymous to the receiving couple. More than 50 countries worldwide are importers, including Paraguay, the US, Kenya and Hong Kong.
This article is based on "Sperm" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sperm&action=history