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Human ovum.jpg


New Latin, from Latin, egg

  • First Known Use: circa 1706

While the non-mammalian animal egg was obvious, the doctrine ex ova omne vivum ("every living [animal comes from] an egg"), associated with William Harvey (1578-1657), was a rejection of spontaneous generation and preformationism as well as a bold assumption that mammals also reproduced via eggs. Karl Ernst von Baer discovered the mammalian ovum in 1827, and Edgar Allen discovered the human ovum in 1928. The fusion of spermatozoa with ova (of a starfish) was observed by Oskar Hertwig in 1876.



The ovum or egg cell is the female haploid reproductive cell (gamete) in oogamous organisms. The egg cell is typically not capable of active movement, and it is much larger than the motile sperm cells. When egg and sperm fuse, a diploid cell (the zygote) is formed, which gradually grows into a new organism.

In animals, egg cells are also known as ova (singular ovum, from the Latin word ovum meaning egg or egg cell). The term ovule is used for the young ovum of an animal. In higher animals, ova are produced by female gonads (sexual glands) called ovaries and all of them are present at birth in mammals and mature via oogenesis.

In viviparous animals (which include humans and all other placental mammals), the ovum is fertilized inside the female body.

The human ova grow from primitive germ cells that are embedded in the substance of the ovaries. Each of them divides repeatedly to give secretions of the uterine glands, ultimately forming a blastocyst.

The ovum is one of the largest cells in the human body, typically visible to the naked eye without the aid of a microscope or other magnification device. The human ovum measures approximately 0.12 mm in diameter.

Ooplasm (also: oöplasm) is the yolk of the ovum, a cell substance at its center, which contains its nucleus, named the germinal vesicle, and the nucleolus, called the germinal spot.

The ooplasm consists of the cytoplasm of the ordinary animal cell with its spongioplasm and hyaloplasm, often called the formative yolk; and the nutritive yolk or deutoplasm, made of rounded granules of fatty and albuminoid substances imbedded in the cytoplasm.

Mammalian ova contain only a tiny amount of the nutritive yolk, for nourishing the embryo in the early stages of its development only. In contrast, bird eggs contain enough to supply the chick with nutriment throughout the whole period of incubation.

In the oviparous animals (all birds, most fish, amphibians and reptiles) the ova develop protective layers and pass through the oviduct to the outside of the body. They are fertilized by male sperm either inside the female body (as in birds), or outside (as in many fish). After fertilization, an embryo develops, nourished by nutrients contained in the egg. It then hatches from the egg, outside the mother's body.

The egg cell's cytoplasm and mitochondria are the sole means the egg is able to reproduce by mitosis and eventually form a blastocyst after fertilization.

There is an intermediate form, the ovoviviparous animals: the embryo develops within and is nourished by an egg as in the oviparous case, but then it hatches inside the mother's body shortly before birth, or just after the egg leaves the mother's body. Some fish, reptiles and many invertebrates use this technique.