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Life Science Zurich Communication & Events

Scientists successfully simulate protein complex that initiates fertilisation

Researchers at ETH Zurich recently developed highly realistic simulations of the proteins on sperm and egg cells coupling together before they fuse. These findings enabled the research team to solve several mysteries of fertilisation at once, which could help to accelerate development of more targeted infertility treatments.

After fertilisation, the egg cell (purple) releases zinc ions (blue dots), which changes the shape of the green protein on the surface of a sperm. As a result, the sperm can no longer dock to the egg cell. (Visualisation: Paulina Pacak, ETH Zurich)

In brief

  • An ETH Zurich research team has visualised the fertilisation dynamics of human egg cell for the first time using simulations on high-​performance computers.
  • The simulations show how a protein on the surface of sperms changes due to the release of zinc ions after fertilisation of the egg cell.
  • This prevents the deformed protein from binding to a docking site on the surface of the egg cell.
  • The decoded mechanisms could point to new ways of treating infertility or developing drug-​based contraceptive methods.

ETH News