JUL 18, 2016 12:40 PM PDT

Scientists Capture Real Sparks at the Moment of Conception

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

It may seem like sparks (the literal and figurative kind) only happen in the movies. But as it turns out, sparks are a real human phenomenon that science has only documented recently. And the flash of light marks one of the most momentous events in human biology: when a sperm meets an egg to conceive a baby!

Scientists at Northwestern University captured, for the first time, the ‘fireworks' display when a sperm fertilizes a human egg. The phenomenon is dubbed a "Zinc spark," and results from the surge of zinc that gets released from the egg once a sperm enters. Using fluorescent markers, the scientists were able to show exactly what happens at the moment of conception.

That fertilization can be visualized so clearly can be an extremely powerful tool in assisted reproductive technology. For example, people who undergo in vitro fertilization may have a higher chance of success if doctors are able to first screen, using the zinc spark test, and select only eggs that have been successfully fertilized for implantation. Overall, the zinc signal provides a non-invasive and reliable way to assess the health of the egg and the subsequent embryo.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 13, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 13, 2019
Why a Metal Asteroid Tops NASA's Must-Explore List
Innumerable amounts of asteroids exist in the asteroid belt that resides between Mars and Jupiter in orbit around the Sun, but one specimen in particular a...
NOV 13, 2019
Earth & The Environment
NOV 13, 2019
Greenland's Summer Melt Helps Scientists Track Sea Level Rise
This summer, the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced a significant melting event not seen since 2002, mainly due to the heatwave that swept through most of Eur...
NOV 13, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
NOV 13, 2019
Is the Milky Way Too "Gassy"?
Astrophysicists have long thought that our home galaxy the Milky Way has been constantly losing mass due to the escape of hydrogen gas. However, by observi...
NOV 13, 2019
Earth & The Environment
NOV 13, 2019
11,000 Scientists Agree-The Climate Crisis is Here
A worldwide coalition of more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries warns "clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergen...
NOV 13, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 13, 2019
Triggerfish Are Lobsters' Worst Enemies
Lobsters, just like many other animals, follow migration patterns. They are often observed traveling in large packs, marching in straight lines across the...
NOV 13, 2019
Earth & The Environment
NOV 13, 2019
"Sea-thru" Algorithm Clarifies Underwater Photos
Have you ever tried to take photographs underwater, only to be sorely disappointed by the results? Pictures of vivid underwater scenery usually appear very...
Loading Comments...