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March 13, 2010 4:45 PM   Subscribe

In Sizing Up Sperm, people dressed in all white literally act out the role of sperm in the race to become one with the egg, running through valleys, squeezing through spirals, battling Leukocytes and much more. The results are stunning and the program airs this Sunday, March 14 on National Geographic. It just so happens that Slate also got in on the ejaculation meme, and delivered an article on a story of sperm donors and DNA tracing in Are Sperm Donors Really Anonymous Anymore? [via]

The impressive undertaking was completed with helicopter-mounted cameras, world-renowned scientists, CGI and over-the-top reconstruction of the sperm’s journey played out in real life by humans.

National Geographic’s Sizing Up Sperm page has video, photos, facts and “The Great Sperm Race” game.
posted by netbros (26 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was in really good shape back when I was a spermatozoa.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:54 PM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


netbros: "In Sizing Up Sperm, people dressed in all white literally act out the role of sperm in the race to become one with the egg, running through valleys, squeezing through spirals, battling Leukocytes and much more. The results are stunning and the program airs this Sunday, March 14 on National Geographic."

Not nearly as stunning as what happens before ejaculation.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:07 PM on March 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


Each of us was the grand prize in an ultimate reality competition

That is a depressing fucking thought.
posted by jonmc at 5:23 PM on March 13, 2010


dances_with_sneetches: "I was in really good shape back when I was a spermatozoa."

Yeah. Me too. I'm trying to get down to my pre-fertilization weight.
posted by Splunge at 5:33 PM on March 13, 2010


Rhaomi, I immediately thought of that scene as well.
posted by amro at 5:35 PM on March 13, 2010


It just so happens that Slate also got in on the ejaculation meme, and delivered an article on a story of sperm donors and DNA tracing in Are Sperm Donors Really Anonymous Anymore?

Also, this is nothing new, David Plotz has done a whole series of articles about sperm donation at Slate. I don't really get how this article has anything to do with the National Geographic program, other than that it's got something to do with sperm.
posted by amro at 5:45 PM on March 13, 2010


"Now imagine, if you will, four hundred million blind and desperate sperm whales departing from the Pacific Coast of North America, swimming at fifteen thousand miles per hour, and arriving in Japanese coastal waters in just under forty five minutes. How would they be received? Would they realize that they were carrying information? A message? Would there be room for so many millions? Would they know that they had been sent for a purpose?"

Laurie Anderson
posted by marvin at 5:48 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meh. I'm sick of all these remakes of 70s movies. Might have been worth it if they'd gotten Woody Allen to direct again this time around, though.
posted by koeselitz at 5:51 PM on March 13, 2010


... aaaand I knew I was too late to make that joke.
posted by koeselitz at 5:52 PM on March 13, 2010


This is an attempt by the Discovery Channel to ..shall we say.. jerk up their ratings.
posted by water bear at 5:56 PM on March 13, 2010


Seems like they're perpetuating the old active-sperm passive-egg paradigm.

By 1986 Martin had begun hanging out with a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins who were observing sperm mobility in hopes of coming up with a strategy for a new contraceptive. They had started the year before with a simple experiment--measuring human sperm’s ability to escape and swim away from a tiny suction pipet placed against the side of the sperm cell’s head. To the team’s great surprise, the sperm turned out to be feeble swimmers; their heads thrashed from side to side ten times more vigorously than their bodies pushed forward. It makes sense, says Martin. The last thing you’d want a sperm to be is a highly effective burrower, because it would end up burrowing into the first obstacle it encountered. You want a sperm that’s good at getting away from things.

The team went on to determine that the sperm tries to pull its getaway act even on the egg itself, but is held down against its struggles by molecules on the surface of the egg that hook together with counterparts on the sperm’s surface, fastening the sperm until the egg can absorb it. Yet even after having revealed the sperm to be an escape artist and the egg to be a chemically active sperm catcher, even after discussing the egg’s role in tethering the sperm, the research team continued for another three years to describe the sperm’s role as actively penetrating the egg.

posted by emjaybee at 6:03 PM on March 13, 2010 [14 favorites]


Aoxomoxoa.
posted by alms at 6:09 PM on March 13, 2010


How do they cum up with this stuff?
posted by Skygazer at 6:30 PM on March 13, 2010


I'm pretty sure that this programme is in fact 'The Great Sperm Race', originally broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK a year ago.
posted by Hogshead at 6:32 PM on March 13, 2010


Oh whoa, whoa, whoa....

My Mefi Recent activity page is this thread and then the trololololololololololo thread and all of a sudden SHAZAM!!

Trololololololololololo is the happy song a spermatozoa sings while it's happily swims it's way towards the egg.
posted by Skygazer at 6:37 PM on March 13, 2010


And the expression on the trololololololololololo guy's face is the look a sperm gives a egg just before it gets busy.

I think I deserve a prize for that observation. Yes I do. I really do.
posted by Skygazer at 6:41 PM on March 13, 2010


Tell me I'm wrong.
posted by Skygazer at 6:43 PM on March 13, 2010


The team went on to determine that the sperm tries to pull its getaway act even on the egg itself, but is held down against its struggles by molecules on the surface of the egg that hook together with counterparts on the sperm’s surface, fastening the sperm until the egg can absorb it. Yet even after having revealed the sperm to be an escape artist and the egg to be a chemically active sperm catcher, even after discussing the egg’s role in tethering the sperm, the research team continued for another three years to describe the sperm’s role as actively penetrating the egg.

And this is exactly why teleological language should be avoided in describing biological phenomena.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:45 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Skygazer: "
I think I deserve a prize for that observation. Yes I do. I really do.
"

A truly seminal analysis.
posted by vanar sena at 7:05 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


marvin: ""Now imagine, if you will, four hundred million blind and desperate sperm whales departing from the Pacific Coast of North America, swimming at fifteen thousand miles per hour, and arriving in Japanese coastal waters in just under forty five minutes. How would they be received? Would they realize that they were carrying information? A message? Would there be room for so many millions? Would they know that they had been sent for a purpose?"

Laurie Anderson
"

Marvin. You just TV Troped me. I must now watch hundreds of Laurie Anderson videos on YouTube.

Goodnight all.
posted by Splunge at 7:05 PM on March 13, 2010


emjaybee : Seems like they're perpetuating the old active-sperm passive-egg paradigm.

Here's Emily Martin on that topic.
posted by spaghettification at 11:16 PM on March 13, 2010


Needs more Isabella Rossellini.
posted by kableh at 7:04 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The active sperm/passive egg paradigm that emjaybee mentioned goes beyond the idea of sperm penetrating the egg. The idea as the egg as the "grand prize" at the end of a race, to be won by the first sperm to arrive, is total bs. Hundreds of sperm reach and bind to the outermost membrane of the egg, and, because polyspermy, the state of having more than one sperm fertilizing the egg and thus way too many chromosomes, is fatal to the embryo after a few cell divisions, eggs have to have several blocks to sperm entry. The vitelline envelope expands to manually knock off some of the sperm, corticle granules in the egg provide an enzymatic block, etc (thanks Prof. Gilbert for indoctrinating me in yr ways of dev bio). Point to be made here: there's a ton of potential "winners" in this race, and it's less a matter of speed or strength but rather random chance with respect to which sperm gets to fuse with the egg, and the two cells enter a chemical "dialogue" (again, apologies to Gilbert).

In other words, both male and female sex cells are "active" participants in fertilization, if you want to go so far as to class the movements of cells as active or passive. What's annoying is the idea that gender roles can be legitimately applied to cellular biology, which makes no sense.

Presumably, the egg's blocks to polyspermy could be interpreted as sexual frigidity or playing hard-to-get.
posted by DoktorFaustus at 4:25 PM on March 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I watched the NatGeo show last night and was pretty disappointed. I was expecting a scaled, massive obstacle course race with thousands of earnest competitors and one winner. Instead, it was a weird performance art thing suitable for middle school sex ed.

I guess I've been watching too much Ninja Warrior.
posted by LordSludge at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2010


"Is the journey my invention? Do the night, the sea, exist at all, I ask myself, apart from my experience of them? Do I myself exist, or is this a dream? Sometimes I wonder. And if I am, who am I? The Heritage I supposedly transport? But how can I be both vessel and contents? Such are the questions that beset my intervals of rest."
posted by oraknabo at 1:51 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Didn't watch the program, but thoroughly enjoyed listening to my SO explain the concept of the show to his 13, 10 and 8 year old sons (after the commercial aired and they asked what it was about).

Love LordSludge's comment regarding performance art. I kind of got that same impression from watching the commercial.
posted by mnb64 at 6:11 PM on March 15, 2010


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