A few years ago, researchers made a strange discovery. Sperm seemed to gravitate toward the scent of flowers called lily of the valley. Could this open up a whole new era of scent-based conception and disreputable flower shops?

Lily of the valley is a pretty white flower which makes a pretty ultra-sweet scent. Because it was very popular in a certain era, it seems old-fashioned now, and is associated with the bath soap of very old ladies. Those bath soaps are scented with the chemical bourgeonal, the main component of real lily of the valley scent, and the chemical that perfumers use to approximate it.


Bourgeonal was found, in a laboratory, to be a sort of attractant for human sperm. (Those old ladies apparently knew their business.) A human ovum puts out chemical attractants that guide sperm towards it. Bourgeonal confounded scientists momentarily because they could find nothing like it in the female reproductive system. Sperm just randomly went wild for the scent of lily of the valley.

Obviously, the "scent" part of this is a metaphor. Sperm don't have noses, and can't appreciate a good smell. The bourgeonal had a physical effect on the sperm, and after some hunting, scientists found out why. Sperm have what's known as CatSper ion channels. "Cations" are positively charged ions, in this case calcium ions with two extra positive charges. The "Sper" part of the name refers to sperm. When the sperm enter a certain chemical environment, the ion channels open, and the sperms tails start waggling, giving them the extra force necessary to go after and fertilize an egg. The bourgeonal, for some reason, hacks these channels and causes them to open. Unfortunately, it only does that at incredibly high concentrations - concentrations too high to aid in conception or have a positive effect outside a lab.


So don't worry about perfume getting you pregnant.

Top Image: liz west

[Via Sperm Cannot Detect Smells, All Four CatSper Ion Channel Proteins Are Required for Male Fertility.]