The term sperm is derived from the Greek word (σπέρμα) sperma (meaning "seed") and refers to the male reproductive cells. In the types of sexual reproduction known as anisogamy and oogamy, there is a marked difference in the size of the gametes with the smaller one being termed the "male" or sperm cell. The human sperm cell is haploid, so that its 23 chromosomes can join the 23 chromosomes of the female egg to form a diploid cell. A uniflagellar sperm cell that is motile is referred to as a spermatozoon, whereas a non-motile sperm cell is referred to as a spermatium. Sperm cells cannot divide and have a limited life span, but after fusion with egg cells during fertilization, a totipotent zygote is formed with the potential to develop into a new organism.
The spermatozoa of animals are produced through spermatogenesis inside the male gonads (testicles) via meiotic division. They are carried out of the male body in a fluid known as semen. Mammalian sperm cells can live for up to 3 days inside the female reproductive system.
The sperm cell consists of a head, a midpiece and a tail. The head contains the nucleus with densely coiled chromatin fibres, surrounded anteriorly by an acrosome, which contains enzymes used for penetrating the female egg. The midpiece has a central filamentous core with many mitochondria spiralled around it, used for ATP production for the journey through the female cervix, uterus and uterine tubes. The tail or "flagellum" executes the lashing movements that propel the spermatocyte.
Motile sperm cells typically move via flagella and require water in order to swim toward the egg for fertilization. These cells cannot swim backwards due to the nature of their propulsion. The uniflagellated sperm cells (with one flagellum) produced in most animals are referred to as spermatozoa, and are known to vary in size.
Motile sperm are also produced by many protists and the gametophytes of bryophytes, ferns and some gymnosperms such as cycads and ginkgo. The sperm cells are the only flagellated cells in the life cycle of these plants. In many ferns and lycophytes, they are multi-flagellated (carrying more than one flagellum).
Because spermatia cannot swim,they depend on their environment to carry them to the egg cell. Some red algae, such as Polysiphonia, produce non-motile spermatia that are spread by water currents after their release. The spermatia of rust fungi are covered with a sticky substance. They are produced in flask-shaped structures containing nectar, which attract flies that transfer the spermatia to nearby hyphae for fertilization in a mechanism similar to insect pollination in flowering plants.
Fungal spermatia (also called pycnidiospores) may be confused with conidia. Conidia are spores that germinate independently of fertilization, whereas spermatia are gametes that are required for fertilization. In some fungi, such as Neurospora crassa, spermatia are identical with microconidia as they can perform both functions of fertilization as well as giving rise to new organisms without fertilization.
In many land plants, including most gymnosperms and all angiosperms, the male gametophytes (pollen grains) are the primary mode of dispersal, for example via wind or insect pollination, eliminating the need for water to bridge the gap between male and female. Each pollen grain contains a spermatogenous (generative) cell. Once the pollen lands on the stigma of a receptive flower, it germinates and starts growing a pollen tube through the carpel. Before the tube reaches the ovule, the nucleus of the generative cell in the pollen grain divides and gives rise to two sperm nuclei which are then discharged through the tube into the ovule for fertilization.
In some protists, fertilization also involves sperm nuclei, rather than cells, migrating toward the egg cell through a fertilization tube. Oomycetes form sperm nuclei in a syncytical antheridium surrounding the egg cells. The sperm nuclei reach the eggs through fertilization tubes, similar to the pollen tube mechanism in plants.
On the global market, Denmark has a well developed system of sperm export. This success mainly comes from the reputation of Danish sperm donors for being of high quality and, in contrast with the law in the other Nordic countries, gives donors the choice of being either anonymous or non-anonymous to the receiving couple. Furthermore, Nordic sperm donors tend to be tall and highly educated and have altruistic motives for their donations, partly due to the relatively low monetary compensation in Nordic countries. More than 50 countries worldwide are importers of Danish sperm, including Paraguay, Canada, Kenya, and Hong Kong. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US has banned import of any sperm, motivated by a risk of mad cow disease, although such a risk is insignificant, since artificial insemination is very different from the route of transmission of mad cow disease. The prevalence of mad cow disease is one in a million, probably less for donors. If prevalence was the case, the infectious proteins would then have to cross the blood-testis barrier to make transmission possible. Transmission of the disease by an insemination is approximately equal to the risk of getting killed by lightning.
Sperm were first observed in 1677 by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek using a microscope, he described them as being animalcules (little animals), probably due to his belief in preformationism, which though that each sperm contained a fully formed but small human.
Ejaculated fluids are detected by ultraviolet light, irrespective of the structure or colour of the surface. Sperm heads, e.g. from vaginal swabs, are still detected by microscopy using the "Christmas Tree Stain" method, i.e., Kernechtrot-Picroindigocarmine (KPIC) staining .
Sperm are the male reproductive cells. Most animals and plants use sperm to reproduce. They have different ways of making and releasing the sperm. In all cases the sperm meet with the egg of a female and grow into a new organism.
An animal sperm cell is capable of movement, as it has to get to the uterus to meet with the ovum. Animal sperm cells (including humans) have small 'head' and a long tail called a flagellum. The flagellum acts like a motor to propel the sperm cell through the female reproductive system.
[[File:|thumb|right|A sperm cell attempting to enter and merge with an egg.]] Human sperm is made in the testicles of a man. Human sperm contains 23 chromosomes. A human needs 46 chromosomes, so a sperm cell is called a haploid as it only has half. The other half is contained within the ovum or egg of a female. During sex, semen is shot out of the man's penis during ejaculation. Semen carries the sperm into the womans vagina and down to the ovum in the uterus. During ejaculation millions of sperm cells are released, but only one hundred or so reach the egg. The egg can merge with one sperm cell that reaches it. Because it now has 46 chromosomes, it is called a diploid, like ordinary cells of the body. This diploid is called a zygote, and it can grow into a fetus and eventually a baby.
Plant sperm cells cannot move by themselves. Plant sperm cells are contained within a sticky liquid called pollen, They rely on transportation to take their sperm cells to other plants. For example a bee lands on a plant to collect the pollen. Some pollen wil get stuck to the bee. The bee moves on to another plant and the pollen falls onto that plant. The pollen falls down a pollen tube until it reaches the ovule at the bottom.