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Dr. Randi Epstein, Columbia University - Sperm Donors


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Randi Epstein of Columbia University explains the most sought-after traits for sperm donors.

Dr. Epstein is a medical journalist and member of the adjunct faculty at the Columbia School of Journalism. She received her M.D. from Yale University, her M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, and B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.
She is the author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank and has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and a variety of other publications.

About Dr. Epstein

Dr. Randi Epstein - Sperm Donors

I met my niece's 20-something boyfriend for the first time the other night at a kosher steak house in New York City. My initial reaction was: This guy's got dimples. He could be a sperm donor.

I know I shouldn't be thinking sperm, but I was pretty immersed in the stuff when I was researching my book. During a visit to California Cryobank in Los Angeles, I learned that besides dimples, it helps to be 6-feet-tall, college educated and athletic. As journalists like to say, it's easier to get into Harvard than into a sperm bank. (Actually, it's easier to get into a sperm bank if you are already at Harvard but not vice versa).

Sperm just a blob of DNA with a tail are much more fascinating than I ever imagined. On average, men release about 200 million sperm per ejaculate and then replenish the well. I knew that the first sperm that gets to the egg is usually the winner. The rest wither away. But I figured that swimming fast and straight makes a champion. (Actually, that's what a lot of scientists had thought too.) Well, it may work for the Olympics, but not for making babies.

A new study suggests that sperm have receptors, a sort of GPS system that helps guide them to their destination. Scientists call it hOR17-4 and believe that it helps sperm sense the slightly higher temperatures surrounding the egg. That means that when scientists see a zigzagging sperm, it may not be a lost sole, but one with smarts navigating the territory.

When you hear about the tough sperm-donor requirements, it turns the baby-making business into a kind of competition of sorts. But remember, the goal is to turn these vials of sperm into real babies, maybe even ones with dimples.

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