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Wide heads help sperm swim together

Wide heads help sperm swim together
Science
Sperm cells are among the most diverse cells in the animal world, despite having the same purpose -- to find and fertilize an egg. The sperm of some species have a single tail, others have no tail or multiple tails, and some have hooks on their headlike structures. Scientists don t know the reason for such extreme diversity among sperm cells, but new research shows that certain shapes and proportions are associated with swimming behavior in some mouse species.

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"This is really a form versus function study asking how shape and behavior are associated, but we ve taken a new approach, using machine learning to do these automated morphometric analyses," said Kristin Hook, the lead author of the paper who was a postdoctoral associate in UMD s Department of Biology during the study. "These mice have sperm that are sort of paddle shaped, and we determined that it s the sperm with a wider paddle shape that are more likely to form groups and swim cooperatively."

Sperm are usually solitary swimmers, but in a few species, the sperm adhere to one another and swim collectively until they get close to the egg. Hook and her colleagues hypothesized that sperm shape was an important factor in whether sperm were solitary or collective swimmers. But they didn t know which features of shape were significant.

Now that the researchers know width is an important characteristic thanks to this study, they can begin to investigate how and why it affects sperm behavior in these mice.

"We think there may be some adhesive mechanism holding the sperm together, and the wider the cell the more adhesion," said Heidi Fisher, assistant professor of biology at UMD and a co-author of the study. "What we really want to find is the molecular mechanisms responsible for it, the adhesive molecule that glues the cells together. But this is the first step. Identifying aspects of the cell shape that are associated with group formation can help us narrow in on likely targets for that adhesive molecule."

To conduct the automated measurement and machine learning aspects of the study, Fisher and Hook teamed up with Wolfgang Losert, a professor in UMD s Department of Physics and Institute for Physical Science and Technology, and members of his lab.

"One of the most exciting aspects of this work is that we were able to combine expertise from across campus to ask an interesting question about biology," Fisher said. "My lab wouldn t have been able to do the automated morphometrics and the machine learning aspects of this work had we not collaborated with Wolfgang Losert s lab. So, the collaboration was really important."

By publishing the code they developed for the automated measuring and machine learning portions of the study, the team hopes that other researchers will be able to apply the same methods to understanding other forms of complex cell behavior.

"This work highlights the importance of data analytics experts and subject matter experts working together to break down barriers between fieldsand push the boundaries of knowledge,," said Losert.

Materials provided by University of Maryland . Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

University of Maryland. "Wide heads help sperm swim together: New study shows that machine learning can help identify cell shapes associated with complex cell behaviors." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2021. .

University of Maryland. "Wide heads help sperm swim together: New study shows that machine learning can help identify cell shapes associated with complex cell behaviors." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210923165910.htm (accessed September 24, 2021).

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Dec. 2, 2019 — Researchers have characterized a protein, called VSP, that keeps sperm swimming in straight lines. Deletion of the protein caused sperm to swim in circles, significantly reducing fertilization rates. ...

May 9, 2019 — Researchers have used machine-learning algorithms to discover a secondary mechanism that helps some antibiotics kill bacteria. This mechanism involves disrupting bacterial metabolism of nucleotides ...

Mar. 20, 2017 — Researchers have developed a mathematical formula based on the rhythmic movement of a sperm s head and tail, which significantly reduces the complexities of understanding and predicting how ...
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