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Weird Wednesday, March 14th 2012 at 12:55 pm

Your Sperm Can Do Calculus

Every self-respecting man has a certain affection for his swimmers. Your sperm is the best sperm, the most virile sperm, a real sperm’s sperm. It’s only natural to feel a certain swelling pride in your reproductive material, at least, I think it is. Well fellas, I’ve got a fun fact to feed into your evolutionary boastfulness; your sperm can do calculus.

So your probably wondering why they do calculus. Are there matheletes competitions in the fallopian tubes? Do they need to calculate the rate of a growth of a conical pile for extra credit points? Not quite. It all comes down to calcium concentration and how fast they wag their little tails.

It’s been known for a while that the egg releases chemicals that change the concentration of calcium in approaching sperm. When the concentration changes, the sperm alter their speed. So it’d only be reasonable to assume that the level of calcium concentration affects speedy sperms’ sperm speed, right? Sure, that may seem somewhat reasonable to assume, but it’s wrong. The change in concentration is what’s altering the speed. The concentration itself doesn’t matter much.

For those of you who were asleep for several years of math, calculus is all about calculating the rate of change, or the rate of the rate of change, or the rate of the rate of the rate of change. It all depends on how far into it you want to go. So that means if these sperm are reacting to the rate of change of concentration, they’re essentially performing some kind of calculus to get to that derivative.

How are they doing it? That’s a bit less clear. The best guess scientists have now is that sperm have a pair of proteins to which calcium ions will bind at different speeds, allowing sperm to sort of chemically derive the rate of change. That’s not for sure though. Whatever is going on in there, sperm-speed is determined by something that requires calculus to express.

And why do they do calculus? It’s pretty simple really. The amount of calcium-concentration controlling chemicals increases as the sperm get closer and closer to the egg. When they get really close the amount of chemicals in the surrounding area — and therefore, the concentration of calcium in the sperm itself — is pretty high. By reacting to the change in concentration instead of the concentration itself, sperm can have their speed changed any time whereas if they just reacted to the concentration, they’d just keep getting faster and faster.

So there you have it guys. Even if you brain can’t perform (or remember how to perform) calculus, your sperm can. Granted, they can only perform a very, very specialized variety of it, but that’s more than a lot of us can say. Just don’t try to get them to do your calc homework for you. I can’t imagine that’d go over too well.

(via Medgadget, image credit Bobjgalindo)

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