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ScienceShot: Diamonds Are a Sperm's Best Friend

8 February 2013 2:25 pm
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Courtesy of Andrei P. Sommer at Ulm University in Germany

Sperm may be strong swimmers in their, um, "natural habitat," but they become notoriously sluggish when you ask them to do their thing in a petri dish. "Poor sperm performance" is a common problem in in vitro fertilization (IVF), but new research suggests that it might not be all the little guys' fault. It turns out that when your standard polystyrene petri dish gets wet, its surface softens into a toxic goo that might be damaging cells. Coat a quartz petri dish with a nanolayer of diamond, however, and you've created a cellular safe haven. A much higher percentage of sperm survived for 42 hours in diamond-coated petri dishes like the ones pictured above than in the polystyrene containers usually used for IVF, researchers report in the Online Proceedings Library of the Materials Research Society. Because the sperm cells used in IVF often need all the help they can get, switching to the diamond petri dishes could give them just the boost they need to fulfill their destiny—thus potentially ramping up the notoriously low success rate of IVF.

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