Zinc protection of fertilized eggs is an ancient feature of sexual reproduction in animals

PLoS Biol. 2020 Jul 31;18(7):e3000811. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000811. eCollection 2020 Jul.


One of the earliest and most prevalent barriers to successful reproduction is polyspermy, or fertilization of an egg by multiple sperm. To prevent these supernumerary fertilizations, eggs have evolved multiple mechanisms. It has recently been proposed that zinc released by mammalian eggs at fertilization may block additional sperm from entering. Here, we demonstrate that eggs from amphibia and teleost fish also release zinc. Using Xenopus laevis as a model, we document that zinc reversibly blocks fertilization. Finally, we demonstrate that extracellular zinc similarly disrupts early embryonic development in eggs from diverse phyla, including Cnidaria, Echinodermata, and Chordata. Our study reveals that a fundamental strategy protecting human eggs from fertilization by multiple sperm may have evolved more than 650 million years ago.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ambystoma mexicanum
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Fertilization*
  • Hydrozoa
  • Male
  • Oocytes / metabolism*
  • Strongylocentrotus purpuratus
  • Xenopus laevis
  • Zebrafish
  • Zinc / metabolism*


  • Zinc