In biology, polyspermy describes an egg that has been fertilized by more than one sperm. Diploid organisms normally contain two copies of each chromosome, one from each parent. The cell resulting from polyspermy, on the other hand, contains three or more copies of each chromosome -- one from the egg and one each from multiple sperm. Usually, the result is an inviable zygote. This may occur because sperm have become too efficient at reaching and fertilizing eggs due to the selective pressures of sperm competition. This is often deleterious to the female, in other words the male-male competition among sperm spills over to create sexual conflict. [Arnqvist, G. & Rowe, L. (2005) "Sexual conflict". Princeton University Press, Princeton ISBN 0691122172]

Fast block of polyspermy

The eggs of sexually reproducing organisms are adapted to avoid this situation. [Eberhard, W. G. 1996. "Female Control: Sexual Selection by Cryptic Female Choice". Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.] The defenses are particularly well characterized in the sea urchin, which responds to the acceptance of one sperm by inhibiting the successful penetration of the egg by subsequent sperm. Similar defenses exist in other eukaryotes.

The prevention of polyspermy in sea urchins depends on a change in the electrical charge across the surface of the egg, which is caused by the fusion of the first sperm with the egg. [Jaffe, LA.. 1976. Fast block to polyspermy in sea urchin eggs is electrically mediated. "Nature" 261:68-71.] Unfertilized sea urchin eggs have a negative charge inside, but the charge becomes positive upon fertilization. When sea urchin sperm encounter an egg with a positive charge, sperm-egg fusion is blocked. Thus, after the first sperm contacts the egg and causes the change, subsequent sperm are prevented from fusing. This "electrical polyspermy block" is thought to result because a positively charged molecule in the sperm surface membrane is repelled by the positive charge at the egg surface. [Iwao, Y., Jaffe, L.A. 1989. Evidence that the voltage-dependent component in the fertilization process is contributed by the sperm. "Developmental Biology". 134:446-51.]

Electrical polyspermy blocks operate in many animal species, including frogs, clams, and marine worms, but not in the several mammals that have been studied (hamster, rabbit, mouse). [Jaffe, L. A., M. Gould. 1985. Polyspermy-preventing mechanisms. In C. B. Metz & A. Monroy (editors) Biology of Fertilization. Academic, New York. pp. 223-250.] In species without an electrical block, polyspermy is usually prevented by secretion of materials that establish a mechanical barrier to polyspermy. Animals such as a sea urchins have a two-step polyspermy prevention strategy, with the fast, but transient, electrical block superseded after the first minute or so by a more slowly developing permanent mechanical block. It is thought that electrical blocks evolved in those species where a very fast block to polyspermy is needed, due to the presence of many sperm arriving simultaneously at the egg surface, as occurs in animals such as sea urchins. In sea urchins, fertilization occurs externally in the ocean, such that hundreds of sperm can encounter the egg within several seconds.

low block of polyspermy

In mammals, in which fertilization occurs internally, fewer sperm reach the fertilization site in the oviduct. This may be the result of the female genital tract being adapted to minimize the number of sperm reaching the egg. [ Braden, A. W. H. 1953. Distribution of sperms in the genital tract of the female rabbit after coitus. "Australian Journal of Biological Sciences" 6:693-705.] Nevertheless, polyspermy preventing mechanisms are essential in mammals; a secretion reaction, the "cortical reaction" modifies the extracellular coat of the egg (the zona pellucida), and additional mechanisms that are not well understood modify the egg's plasma membrane. [ (Gardner, A.J, Evans, J.P. 2006. Mammalian membrane block to polyspermy: new insights into how mammalian eggs prevent fertilisation by multiple sperm. "Reprod Fertil Dev." 18:53-61. ]

Evolutionary advantage

Female defenses select for ever more aggressive male sperm however, leading to an evolutionary arms race. On the one hand, polyspermy creates inviable zygotes and lowers female fitness, but on the other, defenses may prevent fertilization altogether. This leads to a delicate compromise between the two, and has been suggested as one possible cause for the relatively high infertility rates seen in mammalian species. [Morrow, E. H., G. Arnqvist, T. E. Pitcher. 2002. The evolution of infertility: Does hatching rate in birds coevolve with female polyandry? "Journal of Evolutionary Biology". 15:702-709.]


According to the Jewish tradition in the Jerusalem Talmud [ [http://kodesh.snunit.k12.il/b/r/r3104_024b.htm Yebamoth, 24b] ] , Goliath was born by polyspermy, and had about one hundred fathers.

ee also

*Cortical reaction

External links

[http://www.stanford.edu/group/Urchin/poly-sp.htm Animation of polyspermy]


Further reading

*Ginzberg, A. S. 1972. "Fertilization in Fishes and the Problem of Polyspermy", Israel Program for Scientific Translations, Jerusalem.
*Jaffe, L. A. & M. Gould. 1985. Polyspermy-preventing mechanisms. In C. B. Metz & A. Monroy (editors) "Biology of Fertilization". Academic, New York. pp. 223-250.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Polyspermy — Pol y*sper my, n. (Biol.) Fullness of sperm, or seed; the passage of more than one spermatozo[ o]n into the vitellus in the impregnation of the ovum. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • polyspermy — polyspermy. См. полиспермия. (Источник: «Англо русский толковый словарь генетических терминов». Арефьев В.А., Лисовенко Л.А., Москва: Изд во ВНИРО, 1995 г.) …   Молекулярная биология и генетика. Толковый словарь.

  • polyspermy — Penetration of more than one spermatozoon into an ovum at time of fertilization. Occurs as normal event in very yolky eggs (eg. bird), but then only one sperm fuses with egg nucleus. Many other eggs have mechanisms to block polyspermy …   Dictionary of molecular biology

  • polyspermy — polispermija statusas T sritis ekologija ir aplinkotyra apibrėžtis Augalų ir gyvūnų apvaisinimo būdas – į gemalo maišelį ar kiaušialąstę vienu metu patenka ne vienas, o keletas spermatozoidų. Su kiaušialąstės branduoliu susilieja tik vienas iš jų …   Ekologijos terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

  • polyspermy — polispermija statusas T sritis augalininkystė apibrėžtis Reiškinys, kurio atveju į vieną kiaušialąstę patenka ir ją apvaisina keletas spermių. atitikmenys: angl. polyspermy rus. полиспермия …   Žemės ūkio augalų selekcijos ir sėklininkystės terminų žodynas

  • polyspermy — n. [Gr. polys, many; sperma, seed] Entry of several sperm into the ovum …   Dictionary of invertebrate zoology

  • polyspermy — polyspermic /pol ee sperr mik/, adj. /pol ee sperr mee/, n. the fertilization of an ovum by several spermatozoa. Cf. dispermy, monospermy. [1885 90; see POLYSPERMIA, Y3] * * * …   Universalium

  • polyspermy — noun The penetration of an ovum by more than one sperm …   Wiktionary

  • polyspermy — The entrance of more than one spermatozoon into the ovum. SYN: polyspermia (1), polyspermism. * * * poly·sper·my päl i .spər mē n, pl mies the entrance of several spermatozoa into one egg compare DISPERMY, MONOSPERMY …   Medical dictionary

  • polyspermy — n. fertilization of an egg by several sperm cells …   English contemporary dictionary

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