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Sperm length variation is not a good sign for fertility

But perhaps the more interesting finding was that the greater the inconsistency of length in the sperm a man manufactures, particularly with regard to the flagellum, the lower his concentration of sperm that could swim well.

"The finding could give clinicians new insight into the diagnosis and treatment of male fertility problems, which accounts for up to 50 percent of the cases where couples struggle to conceive," Mossman said. The research suggests that at least in some men, measurable inconsistency in sperm length may be a sign of trouble with his process of making sperm, a process known as spermatogenesis. That trouble, akin to a manufacturing line with poor quality control, could result in a lower concentration of good swimmers.

"This could be an indirect marker of testis function," Mossman said.

Mossman acknowledged that there is nothing in the study that suggests what might cause spermatogenesis problems that would result in either inconsistent lengths or low concentrations of motile sperm.

"There are so many factors that govern sperm production, including environmental factors, genetic factors, and their interaction," Mossman said. "As an andrologist and evolutionary biologist, I am very interested in what causes this variation and how that affects the phenotype of the sperm and its fertility potential."


Contact: David Orenstein
Brown University

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