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Human Sperm Can Swim in Perfect 3-D Spirals, UCLA Reveals

One more reason for dudes to walk around like they're hoarding the Eighth World Wonder in their boxer-briefs:

UCLA has revealed that human sperm can swim in a gorgeous, nature-perfect, three-dimensional spiral -- not unlike the helix formed by human DNA, aesthetically -- instead of just squiggling along in a desperate, haphazard route to the finish line.

Well, they still do that, too. But scientists discovered that...

... more than 1,000 sperm cells in a test batch of 24,000 moved in "a very tight helical, or corkscrew, motion," at up to 20 rotations per second.

And weirdly, a full 90 percent of those standouts preferred to spin clockwise.

According to the UCLA release, scientists had previously struggled to keep track of the intricate motions of sperm cells, because their minuscule size and insane swimming speed made it "difficult to track them over time as they move in three dimensions, into and out of the microscope's small observation field."

So Aydogan Ozcan, a bioengineering professor at UCLA who was just named one of the world's top 10 most "brilliant" scientists by Popular Science, ditched the microscope and developed a dazzling new way of looking at ridiculously small things that dart around so fast you'd think they're trying to save the human race:

To address these challenges, the UCLA team developed a computational lens-free, on-chip imaging platform that uses the holographic shadows of sperm cells. Lens-free images of the sperm cells were acquired simultaneously using two different wavelengths of light, one red and one blue. These two light sources were set 45 degrees apart from one another, creating separate shadows at each color of illumination.

Boom. And that's how we got these amazing rainbow images of some superstar lab sperm doing corkscrew dives in their petri dish.

Human Sperm Can Swim in Perfect 3-D Spirals, UCLA Reveals
UCLA via LiveScience

We're wooed, really. Have your way with us already!

But the more exciting aspect of this research is not, in fact, the Michael Phelps-caliber skill set of the human sperm cell (sorry, guys). Instead, it's the imaging technology that allowed UCLA to observe them.

Ozcan attests in the university release that his new digital motion tracker could allow researchers to "rapidly quantify the impact of, for example, various stimuli, chemicals and drugs on the 3-D swimming patterns of sperms." And on a larger scale, according to grad student/team member Ting-Wei Su, it could allow them to observe "the statistical swimming patterns of various microorganisms, leading to new insights into their 3-D motion and the underlying biophysics."

Which includes, of course, one of the scariest modern threats to the human race: disease.

"The holographic technique could accelerate drug discovery and prove valuable for monitoring pharmaceutical treatments of dangerous microbial diseases," Leon Esterowitz of the National Science Foundation said in a statement.

Bioengineering nerd boner, officially full-mast.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]


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