How Chemical Patterns Influence Sperm Movement: A Study
Chemical interactions create patterns in nature such as stripes and spots. A new study reveals that these patterns also play a role in the movement of sperm tails.
Exploring the Mathematical Basis of Sperm Tail Movement
The findings, published in Nature Communications, show that the movement of flagella, including sperm tails and cilia, follows a pattern formation template discovered by mathematician Alan Turing.
The Link Between Flagellar Undulations and Patterns
Flagellar undulations create stripe patterns in space-time, generating waves that propel sperm and microbes forward.
Turing, besides breaking the enigma code in WWII, developed the theory of pattern formation. His reaction-diffusion theory predicted the spontaneous appearance of chemical patterns through the diffusion and reaction of chemicals. These patterns, now known as Turing patterns, are believed to govern various natural patterns, from leopard spots to the arrangement of sand on a beach.
Understanding the Role of Flagella and Cilia
Flagella and cilia play a crucial role in the survival and reproduction of aquatic microorganisms. The Polymaths Lab at the University of Bristol conducted this research to shed light on the orchestration of their motion.
The research team used mathematical modeling, simulations, and data fitting to show that flagellar undulations can occur spontaneously, independent of their fluid environment. This phenomenon mirrors Turing’s reaction-diffusion system proposed for chemical patterns.
The Fundamental Recipe for Flagellar Motion
In the case of sperm swimming, molecular motors power the flagellum’s bending movement, which diffuses in waves along the tail. This study reveals that only two simple ingredients are needed to achieve complex motion.
By studying bull sperm and the green algae Chlamydomonas, the research team found that these distant species follow the same mathematical template. This suggests that nature replicates similar solutions across different organisms.
The findings have important implications for understanding fertility issues related to abnormal flagellar motion and ciliopathies, which are diseases caused by ineffective cilia in the human body.
Applications Beyond Biology
The study’s insights could also be applied to robotic applications, artificial muscles, and animated materials. The researchers discovered a simple mathematical recipe for creating patterns of movement.
Dr. Hermes Gadêlha, a mathematician and member of the SoftLab at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, uses pattern formation mathematics to innovate soft robots. He explains that this study brings us a step closer to decoding animation in nature but acknowledges that more research is needed to fully understand the complexity of this phenomenon.
The study was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and James Cass’s PhD studentship.