We’re barely halfway through January and we already have a candidate for word of the year – Spermbot! That’s what a German fertility research team has invented - a tiny robot that helps men with slow-moving sperm get them to the egg successfully.
Slow-moving sperm or sperm with low or weak motility (ability to swim) is one of the leading causes of infertility in men. The most common alternative to frustration for these men (and their female partners) is either in-vitro fertilization or artificial insemination. Since neither is very reliable (30% success rate at best), researchers began looking for ways to make the sperm better swimmers. (Flippers? Bathing caps? Watching videos of Michael Phelps?)
According to a study in the journal Nano Letters, a team at the German Institute for Integrative Nanosciences put a unique twist on an earlier idea and came up with what might be a viable alternative – the hybrid micromotor for sperm or spermbot.
The spermbot is a tiny metal-coated polymer coil called a ferromagnetic microtube that can be steered using a rotating magnetic field. The coil is wrapped around the tail of a sperm - leaving the all-important head exposed - and driven to the egg by the magnetic field. Once the sperm’s head embeds itself into the egg, the spermbot coil falls off and nature takes its course. A previous study had used a tube around the sperm, but the German Institute’s new twist of adding a twist gave the sperm more speed and mobility.
How did they catch the sperm and tie on the spermbot? Microscopic calf-roping rodeo cowboys? It’s a trade secret. However, they did say that the spermbot has only been tested on bovine sperm, which apparently has many of the same characteristics as human sperm (except for the tiny horns). Also, the spermbot itself can cause minor damage to the sperm and they don’t know what even these tiny metallic coils will do to a woman’s immune system.
Sounds like more testing is needed. In the meantime, vote early and vote often for “spermbot” as the 2016 Word of the Year. (2015's winner was -ism ... how lame!)