40 Years after Humanae Vitae: Part 4, The Oocyte

by Dr. David Fleischacker

The oocyte (the unfertilized egg) has an interesting formation. Before a little girl is born, all of the oocytes that she will ever possess have already been formed in her body, already preparing for the potential creation of her own child. These oocytes are formed via the first stages of the process of meiosis, a process which already relates this young unborn girl organically to the male complement of the human race. [In general, for any organisms, mitosis results in the division of a cell into two like daughter cells. In contrast, the ultimate result of meiosis is to create cells with one half of the DNA make-up of the original, so that it can then be united with one half the DNA make-up of another organism, so as to create a new being with its own DNA make-up distinct from the parents. Furthermore, in the case of more complex creatures in which diverse ecological and social roles enhances the life of the species, sexual differentiation nuances the context of meiosis, such that then the two contributers of DNA to the progeny are male and female.]

These oocytes are found in the girl’s ovaries, linked to follicles that help to provide nutrition, immunity, and protection. At birth, this little girl will possess 1-2 milliion of these oocytes. Later, when the girl becomes a woman, and begins to release these oocytes, the release is into an environment that has prepared the way for conception and growth of a new human being. The fertility cycle of the woman’s body goes through two basic stages, the first prepares her body to increase the likelihood of conception. This includes everything from her relationship to man (it literally changes her organic and psychic make up in relationship to men), to how her body will bio-chemically and organically receive, filter, guide, and capacitate spermatozoa. The second phase provides a “womb” for the development of a fertilized egg. It provides a place to bind (through the umbilical chord), and to be protected, warmed, nourished. I will treat some of these later, but at the moment, our focus is on the oocyte itself.

The oocyte contains chromosomes, mitochondria, and other bio-chemical/molecular elements that have a variety of functions, some of which keep the oocyte alive and healthy in its maternal environment, others which have a functional relationship to future development of the zygote that results from the fusion of the oocyte with a spermatozoa.

Functional Relations to the Spermatozoa

In examining the relationship between the oocyte and spermatozoa, there are many elements known, and many more that are unknown. However, given the large reproductive industry in the US (and the world) much is known already about the biochemical and organic, and even psychological elements that effect the likelihood of union between a spermatozoa and an oocyte.

Here are just a few samples of what is known that highlight the functional relationship. On the surface of the oocyte are cilia that will be involved in binding the spermatozoa, and eventual fusion. Surrounding the oocyte like a protective atmosphere is the zona pellucida (ZP). The ZP contains proteins that both bind and transform the spermatozoa (technically called the acrosomal reaction), that releases further enzymes from the spermatozoa which then increases its activity so that it can makes its way through the ZP and get to the surface of the oocyte. These proteins will only bind spermatozoa of the same species. Thus, only human spermatozoa will bind human ZP.

Once the spermatozoa has ungone its transformation, and reached the oocyte, the cilia on the cell wall of the oocyte pull it in and bind it (other proteins are involved in this process), at which point the spermatozoa undergoes further transformation, and begins to fuse with the oocyte. Once fusion takes place, then the contents of the spermatozoa are incorporated into the oocyte itself, thus forming a zygote.

The formation of the zygote then immediately triggers a variety of reactions. Meiosis that had begun before this young mother was born is completed, and followed by mitosis, which creates two daughter cells in which the DNA from the oocyte and the spermatozoa are now united.

The spermatozoa not only contributes the DNA complement for a new human being but also other factors that are necessary for continued development, for example the centrioles that form the centrosome, which is crucial for cell division, differentiation, and development.

It is interesting to note that the “packaging” of the chromosomes in the spermatozoa is complementary to the packaging of the chromosomes in the oocyte. This packaging happened in a certain fashion such that once it was fused with an oocyte, only certain genes will be transcribed and thus provide needed proteins that complement the proteins made by the oocyte. It is the complement together that allows for the zygote to begin its ongoing division and development.

So notice, the oocyte is “designed” or formed as a functional complement to the spermatozoa. The ZP is designed to bind and transform a specific species of spermatozoa. The cell wall of the oocyte was designed to unite with spermatozoa, and then fuse with it. The DNA form a complement that is crucial for the future development of the human being.

Developmental Relations of the Oocyte: Its finality

The genetic make-up and life of the oocyte possess a form which is really aimed at the creation and then further development of a new human being. To a biologist, this may be obvious, but in a culture which makes use of the reproductive system (and its vertical integration into the psyche — which I have not addressed yet) for shared pleasure alone, this is easy to forget. The oocyte was not designed to protect the woman, or to help digestion, or to provide skeletal components, or endrine functions, or neural functions, or contribute to any other systems in the body, or to provide pleasure for the sake of pleasure. It is for the reproduction of a new human being. This “reproduction” results from the union of an oocyte and a spermatozoa, a union which results in a developing entity, a development which unfolds into all the systems of the human body: the circulatory, skeletal, neurological, immune, etc.. In turn, the neurological systems become the matrix for the vertical emergence of motor-sensory conscious intentionality. And moter-sensory conscious intentionality in turn becomes the lower matrix upon which emerges intellectual, rational, and moral consciousness (these are not caused by the emergence of the motor-sensory consciousness however, as I argued in an earlier blog dealing with when the human being begins to exist). To put this in a slightly older language, vegative life unfolds to give rise to sensate life, and sensate life then provides a dispositive cause for rational life. In a later blog, I intend on bringing this finality out more fully, after treating the moment of conception.

In short, the oocyte is functionally related to the spermatozoa, and in union with it, it has a horizontal relationship to all of the systems of vegetative life, and a vertical relationship to sensate and rational life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *