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Curr Top Dev Biol. 2006;72:1-151.

Defending the zygote: search for the ancestral animal block to polyspermy.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, and Biochemistry, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA.


Fertilization is the union of a single sperm and an egg, an event that results in a diploid embryo. Animals use many mechanisms to achieve this ratio; the most prevalent involves physically blocking the fusion of subsequent sperm. Selective pressures to maintain monospermy have resulted in an elaboration of diverse egg and sperm structures. The processes employed for monospermy are as diverse as the animals that result from this process. Yet, the fundamental molecular requirements for successful monospermic fertilization are similar, implying that animals may have a common ancestral block to polyspermy. Here, we explore this hypothesis, reviewing biochemical, molecular, and genetic discoveries that lend support to a common ancestral mechanism. We also consider the evolution of alternative or radical techniques, including physiological polyspermy, with respect to our ability to describe a parsimonious guide to fertilization.

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