It is beautiful to see, orchestrated much like a symphony. Scientists at Northwestern University have now revealed that the union of male and female gametes launches a fireworks show, quite literally. This is not just for show. The zinc atoms are not just ejected from the membranes, but are packaged in vesicles that are sent out by the well-known process of exocytosis: The scientists used fluorescent tags to track the movement of zinc atoms during fertilization see here for a video clip showing a zinc spark in action. These vesicles undergo dynamic movement during oocyte maturation and exocytosis at the time of fertilization. Sparks literally fly when a sperm and an egg hit it off. The system allows cells to maintain constant levels in the "pantry," something like a just-in-time delivery system: Neither of these articles appealed to evolution to explain the origin of any of this.
The copper quota in this cell is maintained at a relatively constant level over orders of magnitude of extracellular copper. By studying how it works in Chlamydomonas, a single-cell green alga, the Lawrence Livermore researchers "shed new light" on the process. Nearly 40 percent of all proteins require metal ions such as zinc, copper, manganese or iron for activity. The system allows cells to maintain constant levels in the "pantry," something like a just-in-time delivery system: It is beautiful to see, orchestrated much like a symphony. These vesicles undergo dynamic movement during oocyte maturation and exocytosis at the time of fertilization. Zinc is "part of a master switch" that "controls the decision to grow and change into a completely new genetic organism. As the Northwestern University team found, the system can sometimes put on quite a show. Neither of these articles appealed to evolution to explain the origin of any of this. By themselves, metal atoms can be toxic to cells. The zinc atoms are not just ejected from the membranes, but are packaged in vesicles that are sent out by the well-known process of exocytosis: It turns out something no less amazing goes on at the cellular level. Each egg has four or five of these periodic sparks. How this "matchmaking of metals and proteins occurs with such precision" has long been a puzzle in physiology, the article states. After inventing a novel vital fluorescent sensor for live-cell zinc tracking, scientists discovered close to 8, compartments in the egg, each containing approximately one million zinc atoms. But this trapping of copper is not a dead end for the metal; when the zinc starvation stress is alleviated, copper is released and is used preferentially over extracellular sources of copper for biosynthesis. We knew zinc was released by the egg in huge amounts, but we had no idea how the egg did this. Clearly there is elaborate signaling and control going on behind the scenes, even in the simplest microbial life. Copper, for instance, goes into action when zinc is in short supply: This imprisoned form of the metal is hidden from cellular sensors of copper. Just like artificial fireworks, the metals must be carefully packaged before ignition: The fertilized mammalian egg releases from its surface billions of zinc atoms in "zinc sparks," one wave after another, a Northwestern University-led interdisciplinary research team has found. Man-made fireworks shows rely on metals for the bright colors that ignite in the air. These packages release their zinc cargo simultaneously in a concerted process, akin to neurotransmitter release in the brain or insulin release in the pancreas. We show that the zinc spark arises from a system of thousands of zinc-loaded vesicles, each of which contains, on average, zinc atoms. Share The excitement of newly sparked love is often compared, figuratively speaking, to seeing fireworks.
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