A sperm's task may appear straightforward; after all, all it needs to do is swim to an egg and insert genetic material. However, in some cases, a healthy sperm's inability to swim may result in infertility, which affects around 7 percent of all males.
This condition is called asthenozoospermia, and there is currently no cure. However, one study conducted in 2016 and published in the journal Nano Letters has set the example for what could be possible in the future: A team of researchers from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences at IFW Dresden in Germany developed tiny motors that can make sperm swim better as they make their way to an egg, essentially acting as a taxi.
These so-called "spermbots" basically consist of a tiny micromotor, which is basically a spiraling piece of metal that wraps around the sperm's tail. Serving as an "on-board power supply", the motor navigates the sperm via a magnetic field, helping the sperm swim to the egg with ease. When the sperm makes contact with the egg for fertilization, the motor slips right off, and the magnetic field doesn't harm any of the cells involved, making it ideal for usage on living tissue, according to the researchers.
During lab experiments, the motors were able to successfully transfer healthy sperm from one location to another while causing minimal damage to the sperm. The experiment can be seen in the video below:
This procedure would also be less expensive than other forms of assisted reproduction, which can cost thousands of dollars every round. However, there have been no human experiments with this nanotechnology thus far because it is not yet viable. Furthermore, the researchers are unsure how the woman's immune system would react to micromotors injected into her body, and the tiny motors occasionally become stuck on the sperm tails and refuse to release their cargo. However, the study remains a good example of what future infertility technologies may entail when we have the necessary tools and knowledge to make such advancements possible.