back to article Swivel on this: German boffins build nanoscale screwing engine for sluggish sperm

Scientists at the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences in Dresden, Germany, have successfully tested a tiny motor that can be attached to sperm to give them an extra push to meet a human egg. Youtube Video The research, published in the latest issue of Nano Letters, details how the team built a screw-like metal helix that …

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  1. Charles Manning

    Bad Bad Bad

    After millions of years of evolution selecting the best we're now giving the weakest most pathetic sperm a leg up.

    This will not end well.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bad Bad Bad

      "After millions of years of evolution selecting the best [...]"

      Natural selection is nothing more than being fit to thrive in a given environment.

      In terms of the whole human eco-system of the future we need some low fertility - either natural or artificial. There is no stated correlation between weak swimming sperm and disabilities in the offspring it produces. It may even be that it produces exceptionally talented offspring.

      The human genome is littered with recessive genetic variations that can lead to seriously debilitating conditions being inherited. Yet these same variations can also give their "carriers" immunity to fatal diseases like malaria and typhoid. In areas where those diseases are endemic the "carrier" of the genetic variation has the survival advantage.

      1. Big John Silver badge

        Re: Bad Bad Bad

        There is a major genetic choice being made here.

        When DNA is replicated there is a small, predictable error rate in the transcription. Repeated duplication causes the errors to accumulate. For this reason Nature has opted to have some future genetic material be produced very early in embryo development. Eggs are relatively low in number and are not created later in life.

        Sperm however, have to perform a difficult feat; Reach the egg and fuse with it. The two cells are separated by large cellular distances, so vast numbers of mobile sperm are highly desirable. Thus sperm must be produced as needed thruout life, and will contain many faulty gene sets.

        The 'ordeal by long-swim' makes sure that obviously faulty sperm have no chance. It's not perfect, but the rate of bad male genes is greatly reduced.

        It's really not a good idea to be messing with so basic a process, but we do it all the time anyway. I myself have bad eyes, which normally would be weeded out of the gene pool. Lucky me!

        1. frank ly Silver badge

          Re: Bad Bad Bad

          "... bad eyes, which normally would be weeded out of the gene pool."

          Apparently, in neolithic times, some craft workers produced intricate miniature jewellery, without use of magnifying lenses. It is assumed that they were very short sighted but they survived because they had skills that were valued by their community. In the modern world, we need people who can do more than run and jump well and kill bison effectively.

        2. The Travelling Dangleberries

          Re: Bad Bad Bad

          @Big John

          "I myself have bad eyes, which normally would be weeded out of the gene pool. Lucky me!"

          Not necessarily. The problem with the re-interpretation of Darwinism is that it has been explained the wrong way round. Natural selection involves the extinction of the "weakest" rather than the "survival of the fittest".

          1. x 7 Silver badge

            Re: Bad Bad Bad

            In reality Darwinism is more about the survival of the luckiest......

            being in the right place at the right time with the right companions is probably the most important thing in survival

            1. idontbyte

              Re: Bad Bad Bad

              But repetition weeds out luck....

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Bad Bad Bad

      You are "weak" (or weaker and you should be) and so are most of us nowdays. Question is only how much weaker.

      Inevitable consequence of detectable presence of contraceptives in drinking water. Prosac is not the only thing that survives human kidneys, water treatment and stays out there for months if not years until it ends up back in your tap.

      There are several other major factors in decreasing sperm agility and sperm counts in male population in developed countries, but this one is probably the biggest "hitter".

    3. Lars Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Bad Bad Bad

      Perhaps the sperm's ability to swim is much like an outboard engine, obsolete and discarded when the big goal is reached, mission completed. Perhaps probably for perhaps. My suggestion for the German name would then be "Sperma Außenbordmotor" or something.

    4. Filippo

      Evolution, shmevolution

      It's irrelevant. Evolution takes at least tens of generations before it has any noticeable effect. We'll be fixing this sort of stuff directly with genetical engineering in a few decades. Maybe, if there is some sort of monstrous accident that causes deep, widespread and long-lasting public distrust of genetics, like it happened for nuclear power, it'll take a century or two. That's *still* irrelevant on an evolutionary timescale.

      Seriously, Darwinistic evolution simply doesn't apply to Homo Sapiens any more. You can just stop worrying about who reproduces how much.

      1. Big John Silver badge

        Re: Evolution, shmevolution

        "We'll be fixing this sort of stuff directly with genetical engineering in a few decades."

        Maybe, but I doubt it. Try looking at it in app terms. DNA and its associated protein helpers constitute a very complex program meant to grow a huge, intricate multi-celled organism from one cell. Gene manipulation only affects the programming, which then must operate correctly to produce the desired organism. I seriously doubt this will work out any better than, say, MS/Windows. Probably much worse. Windows (for all its faults) is not nearly as complex as human DNA by a long way.

        The difference is that genes don't generate apps. Genes generate people, or monsters if we make a few little errors here and there.

        That said, a lot can be done around the edges to help people genetically, and I suppose that eventually all our genetic secrets will be winkled out. But that's when it gets really fun. Picture a future where a human (or humans) will often be deciding how to adjust a future human's very being in every way. They will become as gods...

    5. Craig 2
      Trollface

      Re: Bad Bad Bad

      Well, the lazy dregs of society are already given the most attention during their lives (schooling, benefits etc) so why not start right at the beginning?

  2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    The one that got a̶w̶a̶y̶ in

    saw a TV programme once where the researchers used software designed to track trajectories of vehicles in traffic flows to track and pick the the most motile sperm in a sample.

    icon- media featuring Paris to assist at the sample collection stage

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting use of nanotech but is it really the best they could come up with? It's a fertile industry with plenty of ideas. I semeny more great innovations.

  4. JASR

    RotM...

    Is this the 1st case of SotM? Sex of the machines?

  5. petur
    Meh

    Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

    Not proper German.... try harder

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

        @Voyna i Mor

        YEAH! I also hate it when people correct me when I'm wrong. Praise Jesus!

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

          "YEAH! I also hate it when people correct me when I'm wrong. Praise Jesus!"

          Did I say that? No, I didn't. I wrote that there is a right way and a wrong way to correct people (who you don't know well), and I even provided an example.

          Brian O'Nolan provided an example of this, when in Germany he asked "Bitte, ist das der Doenau", only to get the reply "Nein, das ist die Doenau". Perfectly correct, but it could have been expressed much more politely by saying "Ja, aber man sagt/ es heisst die Doenau".

          Don't you ever find a little politeness helps one's passage through life?

          1. Big John Silver badge

            Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

            AC's often do trolling instead of niceness. Just ignore them when they get like that.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

            Well, then that's the difference between Germans and Brits. We value efficiency and effectiveness over useless politeness.

          3. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

            Don't you ever find a little politeness helps one's passage through life?

            My mistakes in German have usually been politely corrected in English. I suppose it serves me right for choosing Latin at school rather than German.

          4. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

            Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

            If I may be permitted to humbly correct you: the river in question is called Donau. You probably know it as the Danube. Celebrated by Johann Strauss in his greatest hit 'An der schönen blauen Donau'

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1mmHn-FD48

            (later used by Stanley Kubrick in '2001', but that's another story).

            1. Lars Silver badge
              Happy

              Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

              Up voted for Stanley Kubrick, as far as I remember he never had any "new" music written for his movies but used "old" music one has to assume he liked himself. One of the best in his field I would claim.

              From sperm to Stanley Kubrick, I quite like ElReg.

              1. x 7 Silver badge

                Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

                apparently Kubrick did have a score written for the film, but abandoned it

                see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001:_A_Space_Odyssey_(soundtrack)

    2. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

      "Not proper German.... try harder" -- petur

      Hey, if we're being really pedantic, that's not a proper ellipsis!

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

        Or being even even more pedantic, it is a proper ellipsis if the omitted words are at the end of the sentence. The final dot then is a full stop (period).

        1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

          "Not proper German.... try harder"

          ... it is a proper ellipsis if the omitted words are at the end of the sentence.

          Yes, but what we had before the ellipsis was not a sentence and what followed was not capitalized, so while use of four dots as an ellipsis is properly used in the situation you cite, it is not in fact the case here.

          El Reg, why don't we have a "Tempest in a Teapot" icon?

      2. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Wir haben Möglichkeiten, die Sie schwanger

        You better tell George Lucas that... he used the same dodgy ellipsis in Star Wars.

  6. Richard 12 Silver badge

    Not seeing the use in this context

    The usual way of doing IVF is to grab the sperm, rip off the tail and poke it at the egg cell.

    Is grabbing a sperm, sticking a motor on it and driving it around less likely to damage it?

    Or is this simply a pretty fun way to test something that'll be used elsewhere for other purposes?

    1. Mephistro Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: Not seeing the use in this context

      "The usual way of doing IVF is to grab the sperm, rip off the tail and poke it at the egg cell."

      I was once a spermatozoon, you insensitive clod!

      1. Mephistro Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Not seeing the use in this context

        Mandatory (old) joke:

        "This bloke was so old that instead of spermatozoa he had spermatosauria!"

    2. Lars Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Not seeing the use in this context

      What about catching and killing viruses in computers.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Instead of artificial insemination?

    Why?! I won't claim to know the success rate of artificial insemination, but that just seems SO much more reliable than strapping a motor on a thing and hope for the best! Unless it's used for sporting events of some kind, with bets and everything... Then it's understandable.

    1. Steve Knox Silver badge

      Re: Instead of artificial insemination?

      Directly from the article:

      You might ask why bother? After all, our sperm have been doing this for eons without mechanical assistance. But the technique could prove very useful for infertile couples, since 20 per cent of men have sperm that isn't very good at swimming, leading to some fertilization techniques to only have a 30 per cent success rate.

      Or to directly answer your point, artificial insemination may seem more reliable, but that's because you (as you admit) don't know how reliable it is. I'm not judging you for this: I don't either. But that's the point of science: don't accept "seems" -- if you don't know, find out.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Instead of artificial insemination?

        "Or to directly answer your point, artificial insemination may seem more reliable, but that's because you (as you admit) don't know how reliable it is."

        Natural insemination isn't always that reliable either but it's fun to practice and I don' need no steenkin' motorised strap-on!

    2. Chairo

      Re: Instead of artificial insemination?

      Unless it's used for sporting events of some kind, with bets and everything... Then it's understandable.

      Sorry, no bets, but still there is a big and eminently huggable prize.

  8. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    And the result will be...

    ... cyborgs?

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: And the result will be...

      This.

  9. x 7 Silver badge

    three or four generations and us westerners will only be able to have children through AI. With natural selection thrown out the window, those who shouldn't breed, will - and will dominate the population, passing along all their collected ills. We can't afford current health care costs, this sort of tech just increases the costs and increases the numbers needing help

    Put it another way, impregnating a woman will become a skill akin to that of inseminating those big fat christmas turkeys. The good side is you won't need to worry about daily birth control

  10. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Meh

    Is it April 1st already?

    Surely this is a joke? If not, I may just have to quit my job, sell everything I own, disown my friends, and spend the rest of my life in the bar until I can no longer function.

    Re. natural selection, I've often thought air bags, GFCI devices, and safety interlocks of all kinds were a bad idea as they dumb down the gene pool. (unless of course one of these manages to save my miserable life, especially if it is due to a wiring flaw introduced by some other idiot)

  11. Crazy Operations Guy

    Do we really need more people?

    I think we should put a moratorium on fertility research until we can figure out were to house and employ the humans that we already have...

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Do we really need more people?

      I think we should put a moratorium on fertility research until we can figure out were to house and employ the humans that we already have...

      Speaking personally, I don't have any people. While Leviticus tells me I can enslave people from Victoria, both the Federal and Victorian governments frown on this. I certainly have enough work and food for slaves.

      1. x 7 Silver badge

        Re: Do we really need more people?

        "I certainly have enough work and food for slaves."

        offer to house and feed a few abo's for free

        that would be close enough, however you may have issues getting work out of them. Just make sure the booze is locked up

  12. Crazy Operations Guy

    why German has failed to become as popular a language as English or Spanish

    I think the reason that English and Spanish are more prevalent has more to do with all the genocide that the Brits and the Spaniards committed around the world than it has with the language itself...

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: why German has failed to become as popular a language as English or Spanish

      I think the reason that English and Spanish are more prevalent has more to do with all the genocide that the Brits and the Spaniards committed around the world than it has with the language itself...

      By that argument we should all be squeaking some Australian aboriginal tongue. They managed to completely eliminate the Lake Mungo people and the Kow Swamp people, two hominid races that weren't descended from mitochondrial Eve. The latter were still around 10,000 years ago and resembled H. Robusta except with even bigger teeth.

    2. x 7 Silver badge

      Re: why German has failed to become as popular a language as English or Spanish

      "all the genocide that the Brits and the Spaniards committed "

      please......that wan't genocide. It was just enhanced natural selection. The stronger out-competed the weaker

  13. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I'm wondering...

    How does this get applied in vivo?

    Do the participants engage in some ritual after-play, waving magnets around? Does Rule 34 apply?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: I'm wondering...

      In answer to your second question: rule 34 always applies. But you knew that already.

      In answer to your first question: I don't want to think about it.

  14. anothercynic Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Dodgy German translations

    Look El Reg, I know you want to make this all funny and stuff, but for God's sake, stop it with the dodgy Google Translate subtitles, yeah? As a linguist, this one's particularly grating... fingernails on blackboard bad! Either have the stuff checked by someone who is fluent in German, or quit it. Gahhhhh. Rant over.

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