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Biology LibreTexts

43.5A: Fertilization

  • Page ID
    14129
  • In fertilization, the sperm binds to the egg, allowing their membranes to fuse and the sperm to transfer its nucleus into the egg.

    Learning Objectives

    • Describe the process of fertilization

    Key Points

    • A mammalian egg is covered by a layer of glycoproteins called the zona pellucida, which the sperm must penetrate in order to fertilize the egg.
    • Upon binding with the egg, the sperm initiates the acrosome reaction, in which it releases digestive enzymes that degrade the zona pellucida, allowing the plasma membrane of the sperm to fuse with that of the egg.
    • Upon fusion of the two plasma membranes, the sperm’s nucleus enters the egg and fuses with the nucleus of the egg.
    • Both the sperm and the egg each contain one half the normal number of chromosomes, so when they fuse the resulting zygote is a diploid organism with a complete set of chromosomes.
    • When the egg is successfully fertilized, it releases proteins that prevent it from being fertilized by another sperm, a condition known as polyspermy.

    Key Terms

    • fertilization: the act of fecundating or impregnating animal or vegetable gametes
    • zona pellucida: a glycoprotein membrane surrounding the plasma membrane of an oocyte
    • acrosome: a structure forming the end of the head of a spermatozoon
    • polyspermy: the penetration of an ovum by more than one sperm

    Fertilization

    Fertilization is the process in which gametes (an egg and sperm) fuse to form a zygote. The egg and sperm are haploid, which means they each contain one set of chromosomes; upon fertilization, they will combine their genetic material to form a zygote that is diploid, having two sets of chromosomes. A zygote that has more than two sets of chromosomes will not be viable; therefore, to ensure that the offspring has only two sets of chromosomes, only one sperm must fuse with one egg.

    In mammals, the egg is protected by a layer of extracellular matrix consisting mainly of glycoproteins called the zona pellucida. When a sperm binds to the zona pellucida, a series of biochemical events, called the acrosomal reaction, take place. In placental mammals, the acrosome contains digestive enzymes that initiate the degradation of the glycoprotein matrix protecting the egg and allowing the sperm plasma membrane to fuse with the egg plasma membrane. The fusion of these two membranes creates an opening through which the sperm nucleus is transferred into the ovum. Fusion between the oocyte plasma membrane and sperm follows and allows the sperm nucleus, centriole, and flagellum, but not the mitochondria, to enter the oocyte. The nuclear membranes of the egg and sperm break down and the two haploid genomes condense to form a diploid genome. This process ultimately leads to the formation of a diploid cell called a zygote. The zygote divides to form a blastocyst and, upon entering the uterus, implants in the endometrium, beginning pregnancy.

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    Process of fertilization: (a) Fertilization is the process in which sperm and egg fuse to form a zygote. (b) Acrosomal reactions help the sperm degrade the glycoprotein matrix protecting the egg and allow the sperm to transfer its nucleus.

    To ensure that no more than one sperm fertilizes the egg, once the acrosomal reactions take place at one location of the egg membrane, the egg releases proteins in other locations to prevent other sperm from fusing with the egg. If this mechanism fails, multiple sperm can fuse with the egg, resulting in polyspermy. The resulting embryo is not genetically viable and dies within a few days.