When Egg And Sperm Hook Up, You Can Actually See ‘Sparks’ Fly

Talk about fireworks in the bedroom.

When a sperm cell fuses with an egg, it triggers the sudden release of zinc atoms from the egg’s surface. That’s been known since 2011. Now, for the first time ever, scientists have observed these “sparks” in action (see video above) and figured out where they come from.

“The egg first has to stockpile zinc and then must release some of the zinc to successfully navigate maturation, fertilization and the start of embryogenesis,” Dr. Thomas V. O’Halloran, a professor of chemistry and molecular biosciences at Northwestern University in Chicago and one of the scientists, said in a written statement. “But exactly how much zinc is involved in this remarkable process and where is it in the cell? We needed data to better understand the molecular mechanisms at work as an egg becomes a new organism.”

For the study, the researchers used a set of new imaging techniques to count and map the positions of individual zinc atoms in mouse eggs. They discovered that every egg has about 8,000 tiny compartments called vesicles, each containing about one million zinc atoms. The compartments release their contents simultaneously when the egg is fertilized.

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