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Spray of zinc marks fertilization

Outpouring of the metal kicks off embryonic development

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Sex is often associated with metaphorical fireworks, but there’s a real shower of sparks at the moment of conception. Scientists have witnessed mammalian eggs explosively releasing zinc atoms just after fertilization in a series of brief, intense outbursts that appear to jumpstart embryonic development.

The research, reported in an upcoming ACS Chemical Biology, reveals new details about how a single cell eventually becomes a full-blown organism and highlights that metals such as zinc can orchestrate major cellular events. In living things, zinc is better known for supporting roles, such as stabilizing a protein's conformation or assisting enzymes to spur chemical reactions forward.

“This really shows that elements, that chemistry, is in control of biology in a way we haven’t thought about,” says reproductive biologist Teresa Woodruff of Northwestern University in Chicago.

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