Spermbots: Remote-controlled sperm, for assured fertilization

Sperm cells are actually mobile packets of DNA. They swims to fuse with an egg. However this incident does not happen in all the cases. Some sperm are too slow or sluggish to reach the egg in time. ‘ WebMD’ says male issues are responsible for nearly 35 to 40% of infertility problems, worldwide and low sperm motility is one of the many reasons of male infertility.

To solve this problem, recently researchers from the Dresden Institute for Integrative Nanosciences, a stronghold of Germany ingenuity has come up with a new idea.  They have made an effort to help these sluggish minions to become better swimmers.

They have constructed ‘spermbot’ a tiny metal helix or micro-motor, made from tapered tubes of iron and titanium. The team applied the principle of the natural working of flagella and cilia helping in the locomotion of the living organisms. This tiny metal helix or micro-motor can be controlled by an external rotating magnetic field. This minute motor wraps itself around a sperm tail and acts as an “onboard” power supply required by the sperm to swim swiftly towards the egg.

The motion of the sperm with artificial helix, ‘bot’ can be controlled easily by manipulating external magnetic fields which are tug at the iron nano-particles embedded in the tube. The speed can also be increased by increasing the temperature. In principle local temperature control through focused laser might even allow individual sperm to be directly selected for a higher purpose.  Moreover after fertilization, the sperm tail along with artificial micromotor around the tail drops off automatically.

The procedure has, so far, been tested on only bovine sperm. So the accountability of this novel technique in human is still not clear. Presently, the team is planning to achieve a successful fertilization in lab conditions using this novel technology.

Experts think, that the applications for this new technology are developing at a furious pace. Those who thought in vitro fertilization was cool can’t wait to try their hand at in vivo magnetically-enhanced insemination. Targeted drug delivery may also be possible using specialized sperm shuttles. Even non-biologic tools based on sperm propulsion could built to act as micro-assemblers. There is also just the sheer entertainment value of robotsperm for use in next generation battlebots.


Paper: DOI: 10.1002/adma.201302544 – “Development of a Sperm-Flagella Driven Micro-Bio-Robot”

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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