The process is easy to visualize if one looks at maize silk, which is the female flower of corn. Pollen from the tassel (the male flower) falls on the sticky external portion of the silk, and then pollen tubes grow down the silk to the attached ovule. The dried silk remains inside the husk of the ear as the seeds mature; if one carefully removes the husk, the floral structures may be seen. In many plants, the development of the flesh of the fruit is proportional to the percentage of fertilised ovules. For example, with watermelon, about a thousand grains of pollen must be delivered and spread evenly on the three lobes of the stigma to make a normal sized and shaped fruit.
The two central cell maternal nuclei (polar nuclei) that contribute to the endosperm arise by mitosis from a single meiotic product. Therefore, maternal contribution to the genetic constitution of the triploid endosperm is different from that of the embryo.
Recently, research has shown that in one primitive group of flowering plants, the water lilies, Nuphar, the endosperm is diploid, resulting from the fusion of a pollen nucleus with one, rather than two, maternal nuclei.
The mechanics behind fertilisation has been studied extensively in sea urchins and mice. This research addresses the question of how the sperm and the appropriate egg find each other and the question of how only one sperm gets into the egg and delivers its contents. There are three steps to fertilisation that insure species-specificity:
Chemotaxis was discovered as the method by which sperm find the eggs. This chemotaxis is an example of a ligand/receptor interaction. Resact is a 14 amino acid peptide purified from the jelly coat of A. punctulata that attracts the migration of sperm.
After finding the egg, the sperm gets through the jelly coat through a process called sperm activation. In another ligand/receptor interaction, an oligosaccharide component of the egg binds and activates a receptor on the sperm and causes the acrosomal reaction. The acrosomal vesicles of the sperm fuse with the plasma membrane and are released. In this process, molecules bound to the acrosomal vesicle membrane, such as bindin, are exposed on the surface of the sperm. These contents digest the jelly coat and eventually the vitelline membrane. In addition to the release of acrosomal vesicles, there is explosive polymerization of actin to form a thin spike at the head of the sperm called the acrosomal process.
The sperm binds to the egg through another ligand reaction between receptors on the vitelline membrane. The sperm surface protein bindin, binds to a receptor on the vitelline membrane identified as ERB1.
Fusion of the plasma membranes of the sperm and egg are likely mediated by bindin. At the site of contact, fusion causes the formation of a fertilisation cone.
After finding the egg, the sperm binds to the zona pellucida. In contrast to sea urchins, the sperm binds to the egg before the acrosmal reaction. The zona pellucida is a thick layer of extracellular matrix that surrounds the egg and is similar to the role of the vitelline membrane in sea urchins. A glycoprotein in the zona pellucida, ZP3 was discovered to be responsible for egg/sperm adhesion in mice. The receptor galactosyltransferase (GalT) binds to the N-acetylglucosamine residues on the ZP3 and is important for binding to sperm and activating the acrosome reaction. ZP3 is sufficient for sperm/egg binding but not necessary. There are two additional sperm receptors: a 250kD protein that binds to an oviduct secreted protein and SED1 which binds independently to the zona. After the acrosome reaction, it is believed that the sperm remains bound to the zona pellucida through exposed ZP2 receptors. These receptors are unknown in mice but have been identified in guinea pigs.
In mammals, binding of the spermatozoon to the GalT initiates the acrosome reaction. This process releases the enzyme hyaluronidase, which digests the matrix of hyaluronic acid in the vestments surrounding the oocyte. Fusion between the sperm and oocyte plasma membranes follows, allowing the entry of the sperm nucleus, centriole and flagellum, but not the mitochondria, into the oocyte. The fusion is likely mediated by the protein CD9 in mice (the binding homolog). The egg "activates" once it fuses with a single sperm cell, i.e., its cell membrane changes to preventing fusion with other sperm.
This process ultimately leads to the formation of a diploid cell called a zygote. The zygote begins to divide and form a blastocyst and when it reaches the uterus, it performs implantation in the endometrium. At this point the female is said to be pregnant. If the embryo emplants in any tissue other than the uterine wall, an ectopic pregnancy results, which can be fatal to the mother.
In some animals (e.g. rabbits) the act of coitus induces ovulation by stimulating release of the pituitary hormone gonadotropin. This greatly increases the probability that coitus will result in pregnancy.
Another method of fertilisation occurs among animals that normally reproduce sexually, through parthenogenesis: when the gamete of a female is not fertilised by a male, yet produces viable and unique offspring that are not clones. Only DNA from the mother is inherited, but it is not identical to her. Normal eggs of the mother become fertilised, without sperm, and development proceeds normally. This occurs naturally in several species and may be induced in others through a chemical or electrical stimulus. In 2004, Japanese researchers led by Tomohiro Kono succeeded after 457 attempts to merge the ova of two mice, the result of which developed normally into a mouse. This was achieved by blocking certain proteins that would normally prevent the possibility.*
Statistical genetics and simulation models in genetic resource conservation and regeneration.(Plant Genetic Resources)
Nov 01, 2004; GENETIC RESOURCE conservation programs and genebanks store thousands of accessions of different cultivated species and their wild...