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No. 104: Mar-Apr 1996

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Search-and-destroy sperm

Even book reviews can yield delightful anomalies. Take, for example, the January Scientific American review of Human Sperm Competition, by R.R. Baker and M.A. Bellis. Baker and Bellis have advanced the Kamikaze-Sperm Hypothesis. (SF#78) Central to this idea is the observation that the sperm of many animals, including humans, are polymorphic. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some of which are patently unsuited for penetrating an egg. Baker and Bellis draw upon their own studies and classifications of sperm types as well as research by R.A. Beatty and D. Ralt. They assert that sperm come in at least four varieties:

One can liken this array of sperm types to polymorphic ant colonies with their castes of workers, soldiers, and queen. Baker and Bellis go further and suggest that the numbers of each sperm type are under the control (certainly not conscious control) of the males. For example, where promiscuity is observed, as is common in chimpanzee troops, the numbers of seek-and-destroy sperm are very high.

All this out of a short review! Unfortunately, the book itself lists at $78.95, and we don't have a copy.

(Sozou, Peter D.; "Mating Games," Scientific American, 274:102, January 1996)

Comments. Exercising self control, we add only two comments. First, these specialized sperm cannot be as simple as those drawn in the biology books. The search-and-destroy type must have evolved biochemical "devices" that find, identify, and destroy other sperm and maybe even defend itself. Second, one should not ignore the eggs, which are much larger and likely more sophisticated. The receptivity of the eggs may be influenced (perhaps not unconsciously) by the female.

From Science Frontiers #104, MAR-APR 1996. 1996-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987