Back in middle school when we took our first course of biology in 7th grade, we were taught about sexual reproduction and how it functioned. We were told that the sperm plays in active role in the process of fertilization and the egg plays a more passive role. Recently though, new research from the University of Virginia, has suggested that this is not the case in that the egg just has as active of a role as the sperm. This new discovery will not only teach us a lot more about fundamental biology but also help scientists further important clinical applications.
What was previously taught was that the egg had a passive role in fertilization. However, what really happens is that there are molecules on the surface of the egg that bind with a substance on the sperm that facilitates the process for the two. This process is very similar to a cell-surface transmembrane receptor (G protein).
This discovery was found by Researchers Jeffrey Lysiak and Kodi Ravichandran. It first started when the two were collaborating on their studies regarding immature sperm. Instead of the sperm dying like they assumed they were, they were actually healthy. It ended up that the sperm had a molecular marker on the surface that made it seem as if it was dying. This continued to become stronger as the cell aged. They later discovered that this marker, which is usually used to get rid of dying cells in the body, is used in a completely different way during fertilization.
This marker is known as phosphatidylserine. It is normally inside cells until they die but it was found to be available in healthy sperm. While the sperm has this, the egg has proteins that actively interact with the phosphatidylserine. This interaction leads to fusion of the sperm and the egg.
This research has led to some new situations. One of them is the issue regarding infertility. In order to reduce the rates, doctors can now enhance the exposure to the phosphatidylserine on the sperm to increase the chance of conception.
These findings have been published in the scientific journal of Nature Communications. The research was also supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences. This discovery can lead to an increased success rate for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) as well as significantly reduce the costs of this process. IVF is the process of combining the egg and sperm outside of the body where it can be constantly monitored. The sperm fertilizes in a liquid in a laboratory during this process.
Overall this discovery has a positive impact in the learning environment and regular world as well. It provides students with a more accurate representation of what occurs during fertilization with compelling evidence. Additionally, this new groundbreaking research can lead scientists towards a new form of contraceptive for males. So remember the next time you are going through your biology textbook and reach the unit on sexual reproduction, understand that the information presented in the textbook may not be the most accurate material anymore.