Bright flash of light marks the moment of conception

Many think that the image on the Shroud of Turin is of Christ and that the image formed when a great burst of light occurred at the moment of His resurrection.

How about a burst of light at the beginning of human life?

The following item raises a great many moral questions, but the discovery that there is a burst of light at conception is utterly fascinating.

From The Telegraph:

Bright flash of light marks incredible moment life begins when sperm meets egg

Human life begins in bright flash of light as a sperm meets an egg, scientists have shown for the first time, after capturing the astonishing ‘fireworks’ on film.

An explosion of tiny sparks erupts from the egg at the exact moment of conception.

Scientists had seen the phenomenon occur in other animals but it is the first time is has been also shown to happen in humans.

Not only is it an incredible spectacle, highlighting the very moment that a new life begins, the size of the flash can be used to determine the quality of the fertilised egg.  [Ummm… How were the ‘materials’ obtained?  What happens to the ‘fertilized egg’ (= person) now?]

Researchers from Northwestern University, in Chicago, noticed that some of the eggs burn brighter than others, showing that they are more likely to produce a healthy baby. [No, that’s not at all a slippery slope towards eugenics.]

The discovery could help fertility doctors pick the best fertilised eggs to transfer during in vitro fertilisation (IVF).  [Did I mention eugenics?]

“It was remarkable,” said Professor Teresa Woodruff, one of the study’s two senior authors and an expert in ovarian biology at Northwestern.

“We discovered the zinc spark just five years ago in the mouse, and to see the zinc radiate out in a burst from each human egg was breathtaking.

“This means if you can look at the zinc spark at the time of fertilization, you will know immediately which eggs are the good ones to transfer in in vitro fertilization.

“It’s a way of sorting egg quality [?] in a way we’ve never been able to assess before. “All of biology starts at the time of fertilization, yet we know next to nothing about the events that occur in the human.”

Currently around 50 per cent of fertilised eggs do not develop properly and experts believe that faulty genetic code could be responsible.

Some clinics take videos of the egg developing to try pick up problems early, [?] while others check for genetic mutations, but that is an invasive procedure which can damage the tiny egg. Often it is just down to a clinician decided which eggs look the healthiest.

But the new findings could give and extra indication that an egg is flourishing. A video of nine human eggs coming into contact with sperm enzyme showed two flashed much brighter than the rest.


[…]The bright flash occurs because when sperm enters an egg it leads to a surge of calcium which triggers the release of zinc from the egg. As the zinc shoots out, it binds to small molecules which emit a fluorescence which can be picked up by camera microscopes.

Over the last six years this team has shown that zinc controls the decision to grow and change into a completely new genetic organism.  [And then there’s God….]



Again, there are many and serious moral issues at play here, but the discovery is still amazing.

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  1. Knittingfoole says:

    So, they can tell if a viable “child” (potential?) is present with this flash….but it’s not a person yet! (So “they” tell us) But, if it’s not alive what does this flash matter? Oooooo my head it’s spinning. I just don’t see how anyone could deny life begins at conception when you have this proof.

  2. anilwang says:

    Keep in mind that apparently no actual conception took place according to the article. The article stated “nine human eggs coming into contact with sperm enzyme showed two flashed much brighter than the rest”.

    So the experiment involved sperm enzyme only coming in contact with the human egg, so the experiment is moral (good), but it can’t use used by the pro-life community as evidence (not so good).

    As for application, I see two possible applications, one moral and one immoral. For infertility, the fertilized eggs could be sampled and the reaction could shed some light on the quality of the eggs for couples that are infertile so the mother might be treated (if a problem is found) so the couple could conceive naturally. At the very least it’s one more way of determining the many complex causes of infertility. Unfortunately, whatever technique is developed (if any can be) could be also applied post conception to an immoral IVF conception.

    I don’t think the technique can be used to determine “Often it is just down to a clinician decided which eggs look the healthiest.” since once the enzyme touches the eggs it will likely be changed, so it cannot be used to reduce the number of eggs conceived *and then killed* because only one baby is desired. It’s clear these researchers are not thinking morally.

  3. retiredtobedlam says:

    Hold on everyone! Stop!! Read the report.!!! They did not create human life, It’s against the law to do so when Federal funds are used to pay for the research, They did use a human egg, but not a sperm, Rather they used a component of sperm that lacks genetic material. This triggered the flash. No life was created. It is reasonable to believe based on this data, and data in mice that the same thing would happen if they had used a “fully loaded” sperm, but this isn’t what was done. The flash is not the soul, it’s a chemical reaction. I truly wish we could document the arrival of the soul, but we can’t, and they didn’t.

  4. ChesterFrank says:

    The mechanism of polarization, and the electrical changes that take place in the eggs membrane at the precise time of fertilization have been known for a long time. I remember studying it in school, but its photography and commercial application might be more recent. I do like your use of the term eugenics throughout the post, it is very accurate. What was news to me is that a German dictator in the 1930’s and 40’s based his eugenics program on the scientific eugenics programs that were being developed in the United States. That combination makes your post both interesting and frightening.

  5. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    What’s that they say? “All of biology starts at the time of fertilization” and “a completely new genetic organism”? Maybe they are discovering something new, to them. Can’t wait to hear about the flash that occurs later when the embryo becomes a person.

  6. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Here’s the news release:

    I haven’t looked for the Scientific Reports article or watched the film (yet)…

    “Scientists activated the egg by injecting a sperm enzyme into the egg” presumably means to see if it works with us the same way it does with mice. So, however this “sperm enzyme” (it does not say whether human or from “other animals”, to use the Telegraph reporter, Sarah Knapton’s expression) was produced, the “nine human eggs [ are not merely] coming into contact with sperm enzyme”: it has been injected.

    anilwang seems quite correct in suggesting unfertilized eggs cannot be pre-tested: the whole point seems to be, now it is known this happens, in-vitro ferilizations can be watched, and the embryonic human beings implanted in utero (or, probably, in tuba uterina) or set aside to experiment on, or killed at once, on the assumption “the size of these ‘sparks’ is a direct measure of the quality of the egg”. There is no indication that the quality of an egg-to-be-fertilized can be determined other than by producing an embryonic human being.

    So, the application of this will presumably guarantee more deaths of people of this age and stage.

    Dr. Eve Feinberg seems to be talking vilely disingenuous nonsense when she says, “it may give us a non-invasive and easily visible way to assess the health of an egg and eventually an embryo before implantation”. There is no “eventually an embryo”. That is, unless one could somehow know that the full combination of the nucleus of the spermatozoon and the nucleus of the ovum is decisive, and that you were not killing anyone between the successful penetration by one spermatozoon (or its injection) and that fusion of chromosomes. But it seems from the detail, “The eggs in the study were not fertilized with actual sperm because that is not permitted in human research under federal law”, that Congress has wisely not tried to create an ‘experimental window’ between ‘(the beginning of) fertilization’ and ‘fusion of nuclei’.

  7. Joe in Canada says:

    Grateful to be a Catholic: while indeed the Church does not have an official teaching giving a precise time of ensoulment, it is quite legitimate to think that ensoulment happens at conception. But in any case the Church clearly teaches that the new human being is to be treated as a person from the moment of conception. So I don’t think we need to worry about a “later light”.

  8. VeritasVereVincet says:

    Currently around 50 per cent of fertilised eggs do not develop properly and experts believe that faulty genetic code could be responsible.

    Right. Because it’s certainly not as though the artificial process itself could be the issue.

    Somehow I have a sneaking suspicion that natural conception has a much better success rate.

  9. zag4christ says:

    As a practicing scientist (veterinarian), I can distinctly remember when because of the science I was studying or was inadvertently exposed to, I became convinced, converted or “blasted by the Holy Spirit” in realization of the presence of God in all things. The first was while I was taking a embryology class as a undergraduate. It was difficult, confusing, and in retrospect, probably being taught by people who were far from being believers, but to their credit, they were seeking truth. And we all saw that life begins at conception. The second time was in graduate school, and I had been sent to the electron microscopy lab for a now forgotten reason, and the microscopist asked if I would like to see what he was working on. The beautiful symmetry of the cellular anatomy was mind blowing. The third time was as a newly graduated veterinarian and I had just assisted a large bovine having a difficult labor (calving). It was very difficult, I only half knew what I was doing, the bovine was stressed, the caretakers were stressed, and I was fairly concerned. But by the Grace of God, a beautiful, living creature was delivered. The calf began when two cells united, and 9 months later a amazing creature was born. To this day I can not fathom how a true scientist can not have a faith in God.
    When this study that you have commented on was reported, I was reaffirmed, but then I realized that the people doing it were participating in a significant moral evil, IVF. Then it occurred to me, maybe the Holy Spirit will “blast them”, and their souls will be saved.
    One of the many moral evils that we deal with today is assisted reproductive technology. It began while I was in veterinary school. Veterinary science is responsible in a large part for what is going on with human embryo research, IVF, surrogacy, artificial insemination. We as a profession got caught up in wanting to play God, and we all know where that leads.
    Peace and God bless

  10. DeGaulle says:

    Zag, I don’t wish to hijack Father Z’s blog for a veterinary conference, but as a fellow-professional I can agree with what you say. However, I don’t think we need hit ourselves so hard over the head regarding our pioneering of reproductive technology. Man was granted (responsible) dominion over creation, excluding himself, and one hopes that the discoveries in animal reproduction may have improved the efficiency of dairy and beef production, thus contributing to the common good. The decision to apply these techniques to human reproduction is a whole other paradigm.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    “As the zinc is released from the egg, it binds to small molecule probes, which emit light in fluorescence microscopy experiments. Thus the rapid zinc release can be followed as a flash of light that appears as a spark.”

    There is NO naturally occurring visible bright flash at the moment of the calcium/zinc exchange when this particular sperm enzyme hits the egg (this situation is called a positive effector in enzyme terminology, because the sperm enzyme is activated by the egg to cause the exchange). The flash is caused by a photo-fluorescent DYE which is tagged to some substrate (I haven’t read the article, so I don’t know which), probably in connection with the sperm enzyme. Fluorescence is used as a probe all of the time in biochemistry/biophysics. This may not mark the time of conception, at all – merely the activation of some process (Ca/Zn exchange) when this particular enzyme hits the egg zona pellucida (the outer layer of the egg) – the reaction is called the acrosome reaction and is not well understood. The release of Ca seems to be tied to the strength of the sperm.

    So much for science writing.

    The Chicken

  12. JesusFreak84 says:

    Yet another reminder, it would seem, of why zinc is considered so important for women hoping to conceive o.o

  13. un-ionized says:

    MC, You are correct, the light is from the dye used to detect the release of zinc. It is true that it doesn’t mark the moment of conception, which it would seem to me would be the moment of combination of DNA. But what do I know, I am only a physical chemist, not a biochemist, which is only my sideline.

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    “It is true that it doesn’t mark the moment of conception, which it would seem to me would be the moment of combination of DNA.”

    This is a very complicated subject, since we can chemically combine DNA, but that doesn’t make the reaction, “alive.” The question of when life begins is a metaphysical question, not a materialistic one. This is one area where theology and philosophy should have taken the lead instead of taking a backseat to materialism. Theology has let itself be cowed by science, which will continue to walk blindly down whatever road funding will allow.

    The Chicken

    p.s. – I ask prayers for our pastor’s brother, who has gone missing.

  15. Sconnius says:

    The scientific details and discussions in the comments of this blog (in this and other posts) are just fantastic, and far more than this lowly zoology grad usually gets to see.

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