Diagram of a human sperm cell

Sperm is the male reproductive cell and is derived from the Greek word (σπέρμα) sperma (meaning "seed"). In the types of sexual reproduction known as anisogamy and its subtype oogamy, 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 referred to as a spermatozoon, whereas a non-motile sperm cell is referred to as a spermatium. Sperm cells cannot divide and have a limited life span, but after fusion with egg cells during fertilization, a new organism begins developing, starting as a totipotent zygote. The human sperm cell is haploid, so that its 23 chromosomes can join the 23 chromosomes of the female egg to form a diploid cell. In mammals, sperm develops in the testicles, is stored in the epididymis, and released from the penis.

Video of human sperm cells recorded by an affordable home microscope.

Sperm in animals


The main sperm function is to reach the ovum and fuse with it to deliver two sub-cellular structures: (i) the male pronucleus that contains the genetic material and (ii) the centrioles that are structures that help organize the microtubule cytoskeleton.


Sperm and egg fusing

The mammalian sperm cell can be divided in 4 parts:

  • head: it contains the nucleus with densely coiled chromatin fibres, surrounded anteriorly by an acrosome, which contains enzymes used for penetrating the female egg. It also contains vacuoles.[1]
  • neck: it contains one typical centriole and one atypical centriole such as the proximal centriole like.[2][3]
  • midpiece: it has a central filamentous core with many mitochondria spiralled around it, used for ATP production for the journey through the female cervix, uterus and uterine tubes.
  • tail or "flagellum": it executes the lashing movements that propel the spermatocyte.[4]

During fertilization, the sperm provides three essential parts to the oocyte: (1) a signalling or activating factor, which causes the metabolically dormant oocyte to activate; (2) the haploid paternal genome; (3) the centriole, which is responsible for forming the centrosome and microtubule system.[5]


The spermatozoa of animals are produced through spermatogenesis inside the male gonads (testicles) via meiotic division. The initial spermatozoon process takes around 70 days to complete. The spermatid stage is where the sperm develops the familiar tail. The next stage where it becomes fully mature takes around 60 days when it is called a spermatozoan.[6] Sperm cells are carried out of the male body in a fluid known as semen. Human sperm cells can survive within the female reproductive tract for more than 5 days post coitus.[7] Semen is produced in the seminal vesicles, prostate gland and urethral glands.

In 2016 scientists at Nanjing Medical University claimed they had produced cells resembling mouse spermatids artificially from stem cells. They injected these spermatids into mouse eggs and produced pups.[8]

Sperm quality

Human sperm stained for semen quality testing.

Sperm quantity and quality are the main parameters in semen quality, which is a measure of the ability of semen to accomplish fertilization. Thus, in humans, it is a measure of fertility in a man. The genetic quality of sperm, as well as its volume and motility, all typically decrease with age.[9] (See paternal age effect.)

DNA damages present in sperm cells in the period after meiosis but before fertilization may be repaired in the fertilized egg, but if not repaired, can have serious deleterious effects on fertility and the developing embryo. Human sperm cells are particularly vulnerable to free radical attack and the generation of oxidative DNA damage.[10] (see e.g. 8-Oxo-2'-deoxyguanosine)

The postmeiotic phase of mouse spermatogenesis is very sensitive to environmental genotoxic agents, because as male germ cells form mature sperm they progressively lose the ability to repair DNA damage.[11] Irradiation of male mice during late spermatogenesis can induce damage that persists for at least 7 days in the fertilizing sperm cells, and disruption of maternal DNA double-strand break repair pathways increases sperm cell-derived chromosomal aberrations.[12] Treatment of male mice with melphalan, a bifunctional alkylating agent frequently employed in chemotherapy, induces DNA lesions during meiosis that may persist in an unrepaired state as germ cells progress though DNA repair-competent phases of spermatogenic development.[13] Such unrepaired DNA damages in sperm cells, after fertilization, can lead to offspring with various abnormalities.

Sperm size

Related to sperm quality is sperm size, at least in some animals. For instance, the sperm of some species of fruit fly (Drosophila) are up to 5.8 cm long — about 20 times as long as the fly itself. Longer sperm cells are better than their shorter counterparts at displacing competitors from the female’s seminal receptacle. The benefit to females is that only healthy males carry ‘good’ genes that can produce long sperm in sufficient quantities to outcompete their competitors.[14][15]

Market for human sperm

Some sperm banks hold up to 170 litres (37 imp gal; 45 US gal) of sperm.[16]

In addition to ejaculation, it is possible to extract sperm through TESE.

On the global market, Denmark has a well-developed system of human sperm export. This success mainly comes from the reputation of Danish sperm donors for being of high quality[17] and, in contrast with the law in the other Nordic countries, gives donors the choice of being either anonymous or non-anonymous to the receiving couple.[17] Furthermore, Nordic sperm donors tend to be tall and highly educated[18] and have altruistic motives for their donations,[18] partly due to the relatively low monetary compensation in Nordic countries. More than 50 countries worldwide are importers of Danish sperm, including Paraguay, Canada, Kenya, and Hong Kong.[17] However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US has banned import of any sperm, motivated by a risk of transmission of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, although such a risk is insignificant, since artificial insemination is very different from the route of transmission of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.[19] The prevalence of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease for donors is at most one in a million, and if the donor was a carrier, the infectious proteins would still have to cross the blood-testis barrier to make transmission possible.[19]


Sperm were first observed in 1677 by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek[20] using a microscope, he described them as being animalcules (little animals), probably due to his belief in preformationism, which thought that each sperm contained a fully formed but small human.[citation needed]

Forensic analysis

Ejaculated fluids are detected by ultraviolet light, irrespective of the structure or colour of the surface.[21] Sperm heads, e.g. from vaginal swabs, are still detected by microscopy using the "Christmas Tree Stain" method, i.e., Kernechtrot-Picroindigocarmine (KPIC) staining.[22][23]

Other Languages
العربية: حيوان منوي
বাংলা: শুক্রাণু
Cymraeg: Sberm
Esperanto: Spermo
فارسی: اسپرم
Gaeilge: Speirm
ગુજરાતી: વીર્ય
हिन्दी: शुक्राणु
Ido: Spermo
Kiswahili: Shahawa
македонски: Сперма
مازِرونی: اسپرم
Bahasa Melayu: Sperma
پنجابی: نر بی
پښتو: مني
Scots: Sperm
Soomaaliga: Manida
தமிழ்: விந்து
Türkçe: Sperm