The social shape of sperm: Using an integrative machine-learning approach to examine sperm ultrastructure and collective motility
Preprint posted on 7 December 2020 https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.12.05.413120v1
Article now published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences at http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.1553
The hidden life of sperm: link between ultrastructure and collective behaviourSelected by Mariana De Niz
Sperm cells have undergone extensive evolutionary modifications, and are one of the most morphologically diverse cell types in nature. They also display great variation especially among mammals, where sperm cells have significant modifications in their compartmentalized design, particularly the size and shape of the head. Identifying and quantifying informative morphological features in sperm cells, and their functional significance, has been an ongoing challenge across taxa. Some hypotheses on the functions and morphology (size and shape) of the sperm head include relevance in hydrodynamics, swimming performance, and collective behaviour. A remarkable yet relatively rare behavioural variation predicted to be associated to the head shape, includes the formation of collective groups that swim together, for motility or transport, through the female reproductive tract. In mice of the genus Peromyscus, a large natural variation of sperm traits is observed, thus offering a unique opportunity to influence of the sperm head shape on aggregating behaviour. In their work, Hook et al (1) use machine learning and traditional morphometric approaches to investigate if and how the Peromyscus sperm head shape associates with collective sperm behaviour.
Key findings and developments
Sperm head morphology across focal species of Peromyscus. The authors began by determining morphological and behavioural traits of sperm (including numbers of cells and aggregates) obtained via manual measurements among P. maniculatus, P. eremicus, P. polionotus, P. gossypinus, P californicus and P. leucopus. They found that sperm heads are significantly different among the focal species of Peromyscus, despite their close evolutionary relationships. The most important morphological features identified automatically and manually were the head width, the head aspect ratio, and the head area.
Association between sperm aggregation and sperm head shape.
Using a fully-connected neural network, the authors found that among all the combinations of inputs, the network with head width and head area as the sole input, provided the best performance to predict sperm aggregation size. Within the inter-species analysis, and controlling for phylogenetic relatedness, the authors found that the elongation of the sperm head significantly associates with collective sperm movements observed in vitro. Species whose sperm feature relatively wider heads aggregate more often and form larger groups. These associations were however, not observed for head length, head area, midpiece length, flagella length, or head-to-flagella ratio. These findings support the theoretical prediction that an adhesive region around the equatorial region of the sperm head mediates these unique interactions.
What I like about this preprint
I have a deep interest in flagellates and their dynamic features both on their own, collective, and within fluids. I find the fundamental question being addressed in this work, of great interest.
- Hook, et al, The social shape of sperm: Using an integrative machine-learning approach to examine sperm ultrastructure and collective motility, bioRxiv, 2020.
Posted on: 22 December 2020
doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/prelights.26603Read preprint
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