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Will “Older” Sperm Produce Healthier Offspring?

Research into why older sperm produce healthier offspring.

June 19, 2019
Bridget Houlihan

Research has shown that the age of sperm can make a difference in the health and viability of the offspring produced from fertilization. Previously it was thought that this age did not matter when it came to fertilizing an egg-- nor did it matter which sperm did it. This study seems to have proven otherwise-- it appears that age does matter when it comes to producing healthier and longer-lived offspring.

We’re going to discuss:

  • Does age make a difference with sperm?
  • How does it affect offspring?
  • Does this have any implications for humans?

sperm under microscope
Image courtesy of Bobjgalindo/Wikipedia. According to the results of this study, the longer-lived a sperm is, the healthier the offspring it produces will be.

Does Age Make a Difference with Sperm?

This study was conducted by the University of East Anglia School of Biological Sciences as well as with Uppsala University in Sweden. The researchers were interested in observing whether or not longer-lived sperm make any difference in fertilization as well as the health of the offspring. The researchers examined the in vitro fertilization of two sets of gametes with the ejaculate of male zebrafish. One set received the shorter-lived sperm, and the other received the sperm that was “older.” They were working under the general assumption that it does not matter which sperm fertilizes an egg-- as long as it gets fertilizes. Males can produce thousands or millions of sperm in one ejaculate-- but only a few end up fertilizing an egg. It was thought that this process did not need to consider the age of a sperm, but would function the same regardless.

Their offspring and the offspring of their offspring was monitored for two years. They found that the offspring from the sperm that was longer-lived were much more healthier and fitter than the offspring that were the result of fertilization from the shorter-lived sperm. It would appear that the age of a sperm does matter-- and that there are discernible results when it comes to the capacities of their offspring.

children laying on a bed
The study found that the offspring of the longer-lived sperm went on to live longer, healthier lives.

How Does Age Affect Offspring?

The results of the study were surprising to the researchers because it appeared to show there was a difference in the health and reproductive capabilities of the two groups analyzed. Prior to this study, little research was done regarding how the age of a sperm can affect potential offspring. The results show that these offspring had an increased chance of survival and were fitter than the group that was sired with the shorter-lived sperm. They also noted that not only are these offspring fitter, but they appear to age at a slower rate than the other group. This could lead them to produce more offspring in their lifetimes-- which all have the chance to be healthier and to live longer themselves.

It is interesting to note that the male offspring in particular of the longer-lived sperm went on to be fitter-- and this was transferred to their offspring of both sexes. It also showed how important it is to know that sperm selection can contribute to the health and wellness of the next generation. It was already known that each sperm can vary in shape, performance, and genetic activity-- researchers were just unaware that the older a sperm is, the more fit their offspring.

mother and child at the beach
Couples undergoing IVF treatment should know that the longer-lived sperm might increase their chances of fertilization-- as well as have an effect on the health of their child.

Are There Implications for Humans?

This study was done on zebrafish, but the scientists believe there are implications for humans. Because this study was done via IVF, the researchers were able to control at which point the eggs were fertilized-- and observe their growth from a specific point. Humans seeking out IVF treatment should know that there is a difference in the type of sperm they’re using for their fertility treatment. The longer-lived sperm could have an effect on not only the possibility of fertilization-- but the overall wellness of their child.

In addition to human implications, this knowledge is useful for agricultural techniques that utilize IVF treatment for livestock. Knowing to use the longer-lived sperm would be helpful in producing healthier animals that will go on to produce more healthy offspring of their own.

This research proved that there is a difference in sperm-- contrary to the accepted belief that the age of the sperm played no role in fertilization or viable offspring. It is interesting to note that this is also good news for couples who are undergoing fertility treatment-- as they could increase their chances of pregnancy by using sperm that is considered “older.”


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