/sperrm/, n., pl. sperm, sperms for 2.
1. semen.
2. a male reproductive cell; spermatozoon.
[1350-1400; ME sperme < LL sperma < Gk spérma seed, equiv. to sper- (base of speírein to sow seeds) + -ma n. suffix of result]
/sperrm/, n.
1. spermaceti.
2. See sperm whale.
3. See sperm oil.
[1830-40; by shortening]

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Male reproductive cell.

In mammals, sperm are produced in the testes and travel through the reproductive system. At fertilization, one sperm of the roughly 300 million in an average ejaculation (see semen) fertilizes an egg (see ovary) to produce an offspring. At puberty, immature cells (spermatogonia) begin a maturation process (spermatogenesis). A mature human sperm has a flat, almond-shaped head, with a cap (acrosome) containing chemicals that help it penetrate an ovum. It is essentially a cell nucleus, with 23 chromosomes (including either the X or Y that determines the child's sex). A flagellum propels the sperm, which may live in a woman's reproductive tract for two to three days after sexual intercourse, to the egg. Sperm may be frozen and stored for artificial insemination.

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also called  Spermatozoon,  plural  Spermatozoa,  

      male reproductive cell, produced by most animals. With the exception of nematode worms, decapods (e.g., crayfish), diplopods (e.g., millipedes), and mites, sperm are flagellated; that is, they have a whiplike tail. In higher vertebrates, especially mammals, sperm are produced in the testes. The sperm unites with (fertilizes) an ovum (egg) of the female to produce a new offspring. Mature sperm have two distinguishable parts, a head and a tail.

      The head of the sperm varies in shape for each animal species. In man it is flattened and almond shaped, four to five microns long and two to three microns wide (there are about 25,000 microns in an inch). The head portion is mainly a cell nucleus; it consists of genetic substances, called chromosomes (chromosome), which are responsible for transmitting specific characteristics of an individual, such as the colour of eyes, hair, and skin. In each body cell of normal human beings, there are 46 chromosomes, which are responsible for the individual's general physical makeup. The sperm cells have only 23 chromosomes, or half of the usual number. When a sperm cell unites with the ovum, which also has 23 chromosomes, the resulting 46 chromosomes determine the offspring's characteristics. The sperm cells also carry the X or Y chromosome that determines the sex of the future child.

      Covering the head of the sperm is a cap known as the acrosome, which contains chemical substances that help sperm to enter an egg. Only one sperm fertilizes each egg, even though 300,000,000 to 400,000,000 sperm are contained in an average ejaculation. Each egg and sperm produced has slightly different genetic information carried in the chromosomes; this accounts for the differences and similarities between children of the same parents.

      A small middle portion of the sperm contains the mitochondria. The tail of the sperm, sometimes called the flagellum, is a slender, hairlike bundle of filaments that connects to the head and middle portion. The tail is about 50 microns long; its thickness of one micron near the mitochondria gradually diminishes to less than one-half micron at the end of the tail. The tail gives the sperm cell movement. It whips and undulates so that the cell can travel to the egg. Sperm deposited in the reproductive tract of the female travel through the tract until they fertilize an egg or die.

      Sperm cells may live in the human body for two or three days after mating. Sperm may also be stored in a frozen state for months or years and still retain their capacity to fertilize eggs when thawed. See also spermatogenesis.

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Universalium. 2010.

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