The term sperm is derived from the Greek word (σπέρμα) sperma (meaning "seed") and refers to the male reproductive cells. In the types of sexual reproduction known as anisogamy and oogamy, there is a marked difference in the size of the gametes with the smaller one being termed the "male" or sperm cell. A uniflagellar sperm cell that is motile is referred to as a spermatozoon, whereas a non-motile sperm cell is referred to as a spermatium. Sperm cells cannot divide and have a limited life span, but after fusion with egg cells during fertilization, a new organism begins developing, starting as a totipotent zygote. The human sperm cell is haploid, so that its 23 chromosomes can join the 23 chromosomes of the female egg to form a diploid cell. In mammals, sperm develops in the testicles and is released from the penis.
The mammalian sperm cell consists of a head, a midpiece and a tail. The head contains the nucleus with densely coiled chromatin fibres, surrounded anteriorly by an acrosome, which contains enzymes used for penetrating the female egg. The midpiece has a central filamentous core with many mitochondria spiralled around it, used for ATP production for the journey through the female cervix, uterus and uterine tubes. The tail or "flagellum" executes the lashing movements that propel the spermatocyte.
During fertilization, the sperm provides three essential parts to the oocyte: (1) a signalling or activating factor, which causes the metabolically dormant oocyte to activate; (2) the haploid paternal genome; (3) the centrosome, which is responsible for maintaining the microtubule system.
The spermatozoa of animals are produced through spermatogenesis inside the male gonads (testicles) via meiotic division. The initial spermatozoon process takes around 70 days to complete. The spermatid stage is where the sperm develops the familiar tail. The next stage where it becomes fully mature takes around 60 days when its called a spermatozoan. Sperm cells are carried out of the male body in a fluid known as semen. Human sperm cells can survive within the female reproductive tract for more than 5 days post coitus. Semen is produced in the seminal vesicles, prostate gland and urethral glands.
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