The sperm of the wily saltwater crocodile may hold the key to solving the mysteries of male infertility, new research from the University of Newcastle suggests.
Studies led by Professor Brett Nixon have demonstrated that, like human sperm, Australian saltwater crocodile sperm continues to mature outside the testes.
The new finding has enabled his team to study key sperm proteins linked to motility – the ability of sperm to swim.
“We can gain important insights into the maturation of human sperm from the investigation of species in which this process is less complicated,” Professor Nixon said.
“The study of crocodile sperm has enabled us to identify key proteins involved in motility and we can manipulate the activity of these proteins to increase the ability of sperm to swim and ultimately fertilise an egg.”
Approximately one in 20 men experience fertility issues and one in 100 produce no sperm at all.
The research could also have benefits for the conservation of endangered crocodilian species by assisting captive breeding programs.
The research was published on Wednesday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
As to how the semen was harvested for the studies, Professor Nixon acknowledged the efforts of his research partner, Associate Professor Stephen Johnston from the University of Queensland, who used a ‘digital massage’ technique he has pioneered.
“I’m no Crocodile Dundee – wrangling four-metre long saltwater crocs is not something I envisioned myself doing when I started out in this field,” he said.
“Gratefully, my research partner Stephen and the Koorana crocodile farm [near Rockhampton] take care of that part of the process.”