Ultra-imaging in applied animal andrology : the power and the beauty

08 Nov 2021

Ultrastructural studies of the male gamete provide relevant complementary data of value for the clinical assessment of semen quality and assist in determining phylogenetic and structural/functional relationships. This is illustrated using semen samples and testicular material from vulnerable wild animals (cheetah and rhinoceros), commercially exploited exotic birds (ratites and tinamou) and poultry (chicken and duck). Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) was employed to record sperm and spermatid ultrastructural detail on a comparative basis. The power of the technique was demonstrated using normal and abnormal (the knobbed acrosome defect) formation of the acrosome in the cheetah and rhinoceros. The structural similarities of the defect across species was apparent. The determination of phylogenetic associations was illustrated by comparing structural characteristics between ratites (ostrich, emu and rhea), the tinamou and poultry (chicken and duck), highlighting the morphological peculiarities evident in the midpiece and proximal principal piece of the sperm tail. A clear distinction was obvious between the ratites and tinamou on the one hand and the Galliform and Anseriform birds on the other. The potential power of using molecular techniques in conjunction with ultrastructural studies to explain structural/functional relationships was demonstrated by describing a transient elaboration of the perinuclear theca that occurs during a specific stage of spermiogenesis in ratites, and which can only be imaged using TEM. The inherent aesthetic appeal of the structurally complex normal and defective male gamete was also emphasised.