You know those movies that cut to fireworks after showing a couple kissing passionately in bed? Well, it turns out that fireworks are not just a cliché metaphor for making love – fireworks actually do explode when a baby is made. Molecular fireworks, that is. And these fireworks have some important implications for fertility treatments.
The discovery was made by a team of researchers from Northwestern University, led by OB/Gyn professor Teresa Woodruff and her husband, Chemistry professor Dr. Tom O’Halloran. In a recently published study, they reveal that when the egg is fertilized, it releases from its surface multiple “zinc sparks” in a flash of biochemical fireworks. “Each egg has four or five of these periodic sparks”, said Prof. O’Halloran. “It is beautiful to see, orchestrated much like a symphony”. You can see it for yourself in the 3D visualization they created with Northwestern Visualization.
The finding is not only pretty cool, but could also help improve IVF treatments. The researchers are now exploring whether they can correlate zinc sparks with egg quality, in the hopes that tracking the amount of zinc an egg releases during the fertilization process would help doctors identify high-quality fertilized eggs, something they are not able to do right now. They could use this information to select only the best eggs for the IVF or FET, which could reduce the number of embryos that need to be transferred in order for the fertility treatment to succeed. The study is a step forward towards a world with fewer pregnancies of multiples, with all the health risks they pose to both mother and babies.
And if potential future enhancements of the IVF process are not enough, maybe this will present a comforting thought for those of us trying to conceive a little too long: if you feel like trying to make babies has taken the spark out of your sex life, we now know that when you finally succeed, sparks will most definitely fly…