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13.07: Fertilisation and Implantation

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  • Fertilisation

    The opening of the fallopian tube lies close to the ovary and after ovulation the ovum is swept into its funnel-like opening and is moved along it by the action of cilia and wave-like contractions of the wall.

    Copulation deposits several hundred million sperm in the vagina. They swim through the cervix and uterus to the fallopian tubes moved along by whip-like movements of their tails and contractions of the uterus. During this journey the sperm undergo their final phase of maturation so they are ready to fertilise the ovum by the time they reach it in the upper fallopian tube.

    High mortality means only a small proportion of those deposited actually reach the ovum. The sperm attach to the outer zona pellucida and enzymes secreted from a gland in the head of the sperm dissolve this membrane so it can enter. Once one sperm has entered, changes in the zona pellucida prevent further sperm from penetrating. The sperm loses its tail and the two nuclei fuse to form a zygote with the full set of paired chromosomes restored.

    Development Of The Morula And Blastocyst

    As the fertilised egg travels down the fallopian tube it starts to divide by mitosis. First two cells are formed and then four, eight, sixteen, etc. until there is a solid ball of cells. This is called a morula. As division continues a hollow ball of cells develops. This is a blastocyst (see diagram 13.11).


    Implantation involves the blastocyst attaching to, and in some species, completely sinking into the wall of the uterus.


    • Ruth Lawson (Otago Polytechnic; Dunedin, New Zealand)