Human fertilization is the union of a human egg and sperm, usually occurring in the ampulla of the uterine tube. The result of this union is the production of a zygote, or fertilized egg, initiating prenatal development. Scientists discovered the dynamics of human fertilization in the nineteenth century.
The process of fertilization involves a sperm fusing with an ovum. The most common sequence begins with ejaculation during copulation, follows with ovulation, and finishes with fertilization. Various exceptions to this sequence are possible, including artificial insemination, In vitro fertilization, external ejaculation without copulation, or copulation shortly after ovulation. Upon encountering the ovum, the acrosome of the sperm produces enzymes which allow it to burrow through the outer jelly coat of the egg. The sperm plasma then fuses with the egg's plasma membrane, the sperm head disconnects from its flagellum and the egg travels down the Fallopian tube to reach the uterus.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a process by which egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside the womb, in vitro.
Corona radiata 
The sperm bind through the corona radiata, a layer of follicle cells on the outside of the secondary oocyte. Fertilization occurs when the nuclei of a sperm and an egg fuse to form a diploid cell,known as zygote. The successful fusion of gametes forms a new organism.
Cone of attraction and Perivitelline membrane 
Where the spermatozoon is about to pierce, the yolk (ooplasm) is drawn out into a conical elevation, termed the cone of attraction or reception cone. Once the spermatozoon has entered, the peripheral portion of the yolk changes into a membrane, the perivitelline membrane, which prevents the passage of additional spermatozoa.
Acrosome reaction 
The acrosome reaction must occur to mobilise enzymes within the head of the spermatozoon to degrade the zona pellucida, e.g. hyaluronidase.
Zona pellucida 
After binding to the corona radiata the sperm reaches the zona pellucida, which is an extra-cellular matrix of glycoproteins. A special complementary molecule on the surface of the sperm head binds to a ZP3 glycoprotein in the zona pellucida. This binding triggers the acrosome to burst, releasing enzymes that help the sperm get through the zona pellucida.
Some sperm cells consume their acrosome prematurely on the surface of the egg cell, facilitating the penetration by other sperm cells. As a population, sperm cells have on average 50% genome similarity so the premature acrosomal reactions aid fertilization by a member of the same cohort. It may be regarded as a mechanism of kin selection.
Cortical reaction 
Once the sperm cells find their way past the zona pellucida, the cortical reaction occurs. Cortical granules inside the secondary oocyte fuse with the plasma membrane of the cell, causing enzymes inside these granules to be expelled by exocytosis to the zona pellucida. This in turn causes the glyco-proteins in the zona pellucida to cross-link with each other — i.e. the enzymes cause the ZP2 to hydrolyse into ZP2f — making the whole matrix hard and impermeable to sperm. This prevents fertilization of an egg by more than one sperm. The cortical reaction and acrosome reaction are both essential to ensure that that only one sperm will fertilize an egg.
After the sperm enters the cytoplasm of the oocyte, the cortical reaction takes place, preventing other sperm from fertilizing the same egg. The oocyte now undergoes its second meiotic division producing the haploid ovum and releasing a polar body. The sperm nucleus then fuses with the ovum, enabling fusion of their genetic material.
Cell membranes 
The cell membranes of the secondary oocyte and sperm fuse.
In preparation for the fusion of their genetic material both the oocyte and the sperm undergo transformations as a reaction to the fusion of cell membranes.
The oocyte completes its second meiotic division. This results in a mature ovum. The nucleus of the oocyte is called a pronucleus in this process, to distinguish it from the nuclei that are the result of fertilization.
The male and female pronuclei don't fuse, although their genetic material do. Instead, their membranes dissolve, leaving no barriers between the male and female chromosomes. During this dissolution, a mitotic spindle forms between them. The spindle captures the chromosomes before they disperse in the egg cytoplasm. Upon subsequently undergoing mitosis (which includes pulling of chromatids towards centrioles in anaphase) the cell gathers genetic material from the male and female together. Thus, the first mitosis of the union of sperm and oocyte is the actual fusion of their chromosomes.
Each of the two daughter cells resulting from that mitosis has one replica of each chromatid that was replicated in the previous stage. Thus, they are genetically identical.
Various disorders can arise from defects in the fertilization process.
- Polyspermy results from multiple sperm fertilizing an egg.
However, some researchers have found that in rare pairs of fraternal twins, their origin might have been from the fertilization of one egg cell from the mother and eight sperm cells from the father. This possibility has been investigated by computer simulations of the fertilization process.
See also 
- Spontaneous conception, the unassisted conception of a subsequent child after prior use of assisted reproductive technology
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- Lawyers Guide to Forensic Medicine ISBN 978-1-85941-159-9 By Bernard Knight - Page 188 "Pregnancy is well known to occur from such external ejaculation ..."
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- Angier, Natalie (2007-06-12). "Sleek, Fast and Focused: The Cells That Make Dad Dad". The New York Times.
- Suzanne Wymelenberg, Science and Babies, National Academy Press, page 17
- Richard E. Jones and Kristin H. Lopez, Human Reproductive Biology, Third Edition, Elsevier, 2006, page 238
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- Marieb, Elaine M. Human Anatomy and Physiology, 5th ed. pp. 1119-1122 (2001). ISBN 0-8053-4989-8