It turns out that our little swimmers are just like us, pulling on each other to reduce drag and save some energy for the finish line.
Nothing related to cycling is outside the purview of local publications or the industry, unless of course any form of doping is mentioned. But a recent article by New Scientist (opens in a new tab) relies on cycle terms to explain sperm motility.
“Sperm moves in swarms like cyclists to get through thick vaginal fluid,” the headline of the article caught the attention of many cyclists, who were quick to laugh.
Until recently, we’ve often seen sperm portrayed as lone heroes, fighting for eggs “for everyone”. However, the article explains that these images are just plan views of microscope slides and do not reflect their natural environment(opens in a new tab).
A three-dimensional portrayal tells a different story. Here, sperm appear to help them swim upstream in swarms.
“In biology, when [cells and structures] do something, they should probably get something out of it,” says (Opens in a new tab) Chih-Kuan Tung of North Carolina A&S State University. “So that became the question we asked ourselves: What do these sperm get out of?”
To find out, the researchers modeled a cow’s reproductive tract and injected 100 million bull sperm, similar to human sperm, into a tube containing a thick fluid to resemble cervical and uterine mucus. Syringe pumps are used to generate different flow rates.
Without flow, teams of swimmers swim in straighter, faster lines than individual sperm. When sperm encounter flow and resistance, aggregated sperm are able to swim upstream, while individual sperm cannot.
Unlike cycling, however, there never seem to be protected sprinters. These clusters move dynamically as sperm positions change, shedding and recapturing.
“This arrangement is similar to how cyclists ride together in large groups, so they experience less air resistance,” the article states.
It is this teamwork that allows the sperm to succeed and ultimately reach the egg.
“Without this, maybe they can’t actually do it,” Tung said.
In addition to interesting comparisons to our beloved sport, the findings are also intended to help diagnose unexplained infertility.
Sounds like a new avenue for cycling coaches…