By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News
Humans could become extinct if sperm counts in men from North America, Europe and Australia continue to fall at current rates, a doctor has warned.
Researchers assessing the results of nearly 200 separate studies say sperm counts among men from these areas seem to have halved in less than 40 years.
Some experts are sceptical of the findings, in Human Reproduction Update.
But lead researcher Dr Hagai Levine said he was “very worried” about what might happen in the future.
The assessment brings together the results of 185 studies between 1973 and 2011, one of the largest ever undertaken.
Dr Levine, an epidemiologist, told the BBC that if the trend continued humans would become extinct.
Decline rate ‘increasing’
“If we will not change the ways that we are living and the environment and the chemicals that we are exposed to, I am very worried about what will happen in the future,” he said.
“Eventually we may have a problem, and with reproduction in general, and it may be the extinction of the human species.”
Scientists not involved in the study have praised the quality of the research but say that it may be premature to come to such a conclusion.
Dr Levine, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found a 52.4% decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3% decline in total sperm count in men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The study also indicates the rate of decline among men living in these countries is continuing and possibly even increasing.
Previous research ‘flawed’
In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa, but the researchers point out that far fewer studies have been conducted on these continents.
Many previous studies have indicated similar sharp declines in sperm count in developed economies, but sceptics say that a large proportion of them have been flawed.