Ejaculated, bovine sperm have been subjected to multiple partition in aqueous two-phase systems. This partition, carried out in a countercurrent fashion, reveals heterogeneity of the sperm population with respect to surface properties. The sperm, when partitioned in phase systems that detect non-change associated surface properties (change-insensitive) are largely distributed as two distinct populations. In charge-sensitive phase systems (which principally detect cell surface molecules carrying charge) the sperm do not show any obvious surface heterogeneity. Considerable heterogeneity is revealed in affinity-ligand phase systems containing palmitic acid coupled to one of the phase components-poly(ethylene glycol). There is a difference in surface heterogeneity between sperm which have been washed in buffer or left unwashed, direct from the ejaculate. This is indicative of weak adsorption of proteins to the sperm surface in seminal fluid. These results show that bovine ejaculated sperm is a heterogeneous cell population having unequal distributions of a number of different surface molecules.

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