Patch Clamping has always struck me as kind of freaky. Working in a jail-like faraday cage to keep out unwanted electrical currents, our lab’s patch clamp apparatus was off limits to us mere molecular biology mortals. Only the super-trained patch clamp post-doc was allowed to touch the expensive apparatus leaving me to contemplate the importance of ion channel research in a world filled with RNA, DNA and protein.
Alas, the day has come for patch clamp scientists to rejoice. As published in Cell on February 5th and summarized by The Scientist a San Francisco Patch Clamp team has shed some light on how tiny sperm are able to swim the huge distance up the fallopian tube to fertilize an egg and kick-start the beauty of life. Apparently the differential pH between the testes (where the sperm remain immobile) and the vagina (where they are activated) has the ability to activate a proton channel giving the sperm the energy to make the race towards their final destination.
The article also suggests that fertility problems in marijuana smokers may be due to overstimulation of the sperm by premature activation of its proton channel (and not due to the sperm getting some form of lung cancer as I previously thought….just kidding).
In any event, fertility research is a hot topic these days and it’s interesting to think that data coming from the patch clamp cage may not be so freaky after all.