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Human reproduction employs internal fertilization, and depends on the integrated action of hormones, the nervous system, and the reproductive system. Gonads are sex organs that produce gametes. Male gonads are the testes, which produce sperm and male sex hormones. Female gonads are the ovaries, which produce eggs (ova) and female sex hormones.

The Male Reproductive System

Testes are suspended outside the abdominal cavity by the scrotum, a pouch of skin that keeps the testes close or far from the body at an optimal temperature for sperm development. Seminiferous tubules are inside each testis, and are where sperm are produced by meiosis. About 250 meters (850 feet) of tubules are packed into each testis. Spermatocytes inside the tubules divide by meiosis to produce spermatids that in turn develop into mature sperm.

The male reproductive system. Images from Purves et al., Life: The Science of Biology, 4th Edition, by Sinauer Associates (www.sinauer.com) and WH Freeman (www.whfreeman.com), used with permission.
Spermatogenesis

Sperm production begins at puberty at continues throughout life, with several hundred million sperm being produced each day. Once sperm form they move into the epididymis, where they mature and are stored.

Human Sperm (SEM x5,785). This image is copyright Dennis Kunkel at www.DennisKunkel.com, used with permission.

Male Sex Hormones

The anterior pituitary produces follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Action of LH is controlled by the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). LH stimulates cells in the seminiferous tubules to secrete testosterone, which has a role in sperm production and developing male secondary sex characteristics. FSH acts on cells to help in sperm maturation. Negative feedback by testosterone controls the actions of GnRH.

Sperm pass through the vas deferens and connect to a short ejaculatory duct that connects to the urethra. The urethra passes through the penis and opens to the outside. Secretions from the seminal vesicles add fructose and prostaglandins to sperm as they pass. The prostate gland secretes a milky alkaline fluid. The bulbourethral gland secretes a mucus-like fluid that provides lubrication for intercourse. Sperm and secretions make up semen.

The Female Reproductive System

The female gonads, ovaries, are located within the lower abdominal cavity.

The female reporoductive system. Images from Purves et al., Life: The Science of Biology, 4th Edition, by Sinauer Associates (www.sinauer.com) and WH Freeman (www.whfreeman.com), used with permission.

The ovary contains many follicles composed of a developing egg surrounded by an outer layer of follicle cells. Each egg begins oogenesis as a primary oocyte. At birth each female carries a lifetime supply of developing oocytes, each of which is in Prophase I. A developing egg (secondary oocyte) is released each month from puberty until menopause, a total of 400-500 eggs.

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