Cell Division implantation Cell Division implantation
The Biology

Fertilisation involves the fusion of one egg from the mother and one sperm from the father to create a new human being. The fertilised egg is therefore a single cell that contains genetic information, half of which comes from the mother and half from the father. On fertilisation this one cell becomes an embryo and so begins the process known as development.
  Image © Wellcome Images

How it works

Fertilisation takes place 12-24 hours after an egg is released from the mother's ovary. Upon contact with the egg, the sperm releases substances that eat through the egg's protective outer coat.

Although millions of sperm are released, only one is able to enter the egg. This triggers a reaction that blocks further sperm entry. Genetic information is contained in the head of the sperm. This fuses with the genetic material of the mother that is in the egg.

Image © Wellcome Images
Look it up:
How the sperm and egg meet

Selected research papers:
Update on human sperm

Report of signals that control reproductive aging by regulating egg and germ-line quality

Recent work on sperm penetration of the egg

Key labs that work on fertility:
Chris Barratt , University of Dundee
Focuses on the physiological changes that take place in the sperm cell prior to interaction with an egg

Lynn Fraser, Kings College London
Focuses on the mechanisms that control mammalian sperm fertilizing ability

University of Edinburgh centre for reproductive biology
Focuses on pathologies of female and male reproductive tissues, infertility, contraception and hormone replacement therapy.

When development goes wrong

Around one in seven couples have difficultly getting the woman pregnant; this is known as infertility.

Common causes of infertility in both men and women are the bacterial infection Chlamydia as well as other sexually transmitted diseases. Further causes include abnormal body weight (either over or underweight), smoking and stress.

Several treatments are available including; prescribing women with drugs that encourage the release of an egg from the ovary; and in vitro fertilisation (IVF), where the egg is placed in contact with sperm outside the body and then put back into the womb.

Find out more:

IVF is regulated in the UK by the human fertilisation and embryology authority (HFEA)
Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority

Infertility treatment in the UK is available on the NHS

Selected research papers:
In vitro fertilisation - a state of art review

Perspective on how research into in vitro fertilisation techniques began

Oocyte activation, phospholipase C zeta and human infertility

The 1000 sperm coat: Details

The 1000 sperm coat: Nylon, cotton

This coat took 105 hours to embroider with nylon and cotton threads onto dissolvable fabric.
It was soaked in cool water. The backing cloth fell away to reveal the fabric shown.

Copyright Helen Storey


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