Zinc: Gatekeeper and Messenger of Reproduction


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The Periodic Table contains elements that known as trace biological elements. Zinc is one of many trace biologicals. Copyright image by John A. Jaksich. All Rights Reserved

Biologists and bio-chemists recently discovered a ‘spark’ that takes place during conception. What does that mean, chemically speaking?

Zinc and Fertilization

This recent research uncovered pathways that control fertilization of ova involving zinc and calcium. The study that appeared in the online journal Nature—Scientific Reports, states: “The zinc spark is an inorganic signature of human egg activation.”

The research points to ion gradients of zinc and calcium that occur during egg fertilization. However, the term ‘spark’ refers to the release of energy in the process—it results from selective probing (and pairing) for zinc ions with reagent organic molecules.

The reagent molecule is a part of the testing for zinc and is not involved in the fertilization process. The ‘zinc-reagent molecule pair’ is not direct evidence of a life-giving force. The energy was present prior to fertilization-it is manifest from the chemistry, itself.

Calcium is the second most abundant element in the human body. It is found throughout the human body-from bone to brain. Calcium’s involvement in processes during ovulation/fertilization triggers zinc to act as a ‘gate keeper’ in eventual formation of the fetus.

How are Zinc and Calcium Important?

During the process of fertilization, calcium and zinc are messenger molecules. Messenger molecules relay information for the completion (or cessation) of chemical processes. In this case, once fertilized, messenger molecules allow cellular processes to go to completion.

Researchers detected oscillations of calcium concentrations in ova while zinc is abruptly (and energetically) ejected from the ova. The release of zinc, in part, ensures that no other sperm can attach itself—allowing the fertilized egg to undergo division. Zinc was a key player in the cellular cycle—so much so that it could arrest the cycle or re-start it just from its absence or presence. While calcium is the second-most-abundant bodily element, it can play multiple roles. The discovery of zinc in the reproductive process is a new finding.

Oscillatory calcium reactions “tell” the fertilized egg to release zinc allowing cellular division (biologically termed: meiosis) to occur. While termed ’oscillatory’— its true nature is dependent upon the robustness of egg and sperm-thus it varies from egg-to-egg and sperm-to-sperm. Not all oscillations were found to be identical from one fertilized egg to another-some fertilized ova produced several releases of zinc while others produced only a single release of zinc. The ‘chemical processes’ are an intricate dance that need further elucidation.

What is Messenger Chemistry?

Within the living cell are organelles whose functions govern metabolism and chemical processes important to thriving-our bodies understand to produce responses to outside stimuli. As in the case of reproduction, sperm is deposited for ovum, and calcium and zinc respond in successful reproduction.

Our cellular organelles are specialized-each capable of responding for its given function. Although the term, messenger, is derived from biology, the chemistry of cells use components such calcium ions, zinc ions, or molecules such as hormones (insulin is a second messenger that responds to cellular glucose-telling the body to metabolize glucose). Messenger molecules communicate between organelles telling them to act. Messenger molecules can be thought of as sentries in a complex and harsh environment -an ever-changing environment that produces multiple toxins and challenges.

Because our body is a multi-million year response to these challenges, it is a collection of organs that respond to the outside world. It is not one of the many micro-organisms in our world, but many organelles and microorganisms working in tandem. Messenger chemistry refers to signals between cell membranes and within the living cell, itself.

Why Study Reproduction?

The world population has grown exponentially and continues to do so. According to a 2016 United Nations estimate, our planet will hold nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050. The rate of birth defects has risen, as well. The rise in population in tandem with exposures to toxic chemicals has in part, produced a higher birth defect rate. The precise chemistry behind the trend is not completely clear, but it is imperative in the case of zinc that we  understand all of its roles in reproduction. Zinc is a trace element that surprisingly contributes to reproduction.

In our multi-million year struggle with evolution, we rose above most of the fray through cunning and intelligence. Science reflects the continuing use of that cunning and intelligence. In some senses, we are still on plains of the Serengeti, fighting for survival.

Birth defects render most with a sense that the world is become more dangerous with the passage of time. What is taken for granted is our on-going evolution with the natural world, itself. We do not exist inside a bubble that excludes us from the remainder of the world.

Viability of newborns are a direct result of an intricate dance of the Chemical Elements. Image by 05
Mark Morcom
Mark Morcom

Our Place?

The discovery of zinc as a reproduction agent, a trace element in human physiology and biochemistry, puts the element on a short list of trace elements that may play multiple roles in our existence.

While calcium is the second most abundant element in the human body, it is found from bone to brain. Calcium’s involvement in processes during ovulation/fertilization triggers zinc to act as a gate keeper in eventual formation of a new fetus.

While a complete understanding of reproduction makes our existence on the planet more secure from evolutionary forces, we still face a battle with ourselves-a continual understanding of who we are, as we change in response to evolution.

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