Sperm can’t smell, says Timo

A report from Max-Planck-Gesselschaft, highlighting research by Timo Strünker [pictured here, and to whom the report directs inquiries for further info] and friends, says:

Sperm cannot smell.

[February 28, 2012] According to a 2003 study by German and American scientists, a component of the Lily of the Valley scent known as Bourgeonal alters the calcium balance of human sperm and attracts the sperm. The “Lily of the Valley phenomenon” – also the title of a book about smelling – was born as a result of this discovery that sperm act as swimming olfactory cells which follow a “scent trail” laid by the egg. However, a detailed explanation for the Lily of the Valley phenomenon remained illusive as neither Bourgeonal nor other scents could be identified in the female sex organ. Scientists from the caesar research centre in Bonn, an Institute of the Max Planck Society, have now discovered that sperm do not function like olfactory cells – a finding that casts doubt on the assumption that scents play a role in fertilisation.

The report is:

Brenker C, Goodwin N, Weyand I, Kashikar ND, Naruse M, Krähling M, Müller A, Kaupp UB, Strünker T., “The CatSper channel: a polymodal chemosensor in human sperm.” EMBO J. epub February 21, 2012. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2012.30.

(Thanks to investigator Don Davis for bringing this to our attention.)

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