Buffon first coined the term reproduction in 1749. Still, it was Anton van Leeuwenhoek who was the first to conduct experiments on human spermatozoa which eventually led to a better understanding of human production. But did you know early scientists did not have a clear picture of the process up until 1875?
It wasn’t until 1875 that humanity discovered the true story of the sperm and the egg. For centuries, the scientific revolution’s titans had no idea how babies were created.
Where Do Babies Come From?
The scientific revolution’s titans had no idea. Leonardo da Vinci did not know, and neither did Galileo nor Sir Isaac Newton.
They knew that men and women have sex and, consequently, have babies, but they didn’t know how those babies were born. They had no idea that women produce eggs, and when sperm cells were discovered, they had no idea that those wriggly tadpoles had anything to do with babies and pregnancy. According to Newton, the leading theory was that they were parasites, possibly related to the newly discovered mini-creatures that swam in pond water drops.
For centuries, scientists debated whether the woman provides a fertile field for the man’s seed or if she produces her seed. They had no idea how twins were born. Was it from much sperm? Two sex sessions in a row? Sex with two different men?
They didn’t know if conception is more likely on a full moon or a new moon night or if timing matters. They were unaware, despite their assumption, that a baby has only one father, just as it has only one mother. They had no idea why babies resemble their parents, sometimes more than the other.
This was not due to the folly of our scientific forefathers. Many of them were incredibly bright and hardworking. On the other hand, nature keeps her secrets close to her chest. For starters, sperm and eggs are both hidden and tiny. Despite being the largest cell in the body, the human egg is only the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Sperm cells are the tiniest cells in the body, far too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Two more issues conspired to perplex our forefathers in science. One was useful. The scientists grappling with the mystery of life were, almost without exception, men. Furthermore, they assumed that women were their physical and mental inferiors when Aristotle described females as mutilated males. (Source: LA Times)
When were the Sperm and Egg First Discovered?
It took until 1875 to solve the mystery of sperm and egg. Oscar Hertwig, a vain, grumpy German scientist, was staring down a microscope at a sea urchin egg that spring.
Hertwig pushed a drop of sea urchin sperm near the egg and witnessed something no one had ever seen before: the fertilization process in full view.
The discovery paved the way for fertilization and assisted reproduction techniques. He was also a pioneer in genetics because he recognized the role of the cell nucleus in the transfer of biological inheritance. (Source: LA Times)
Image from Eurekalert.org