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A zygote (from Ancient Greek ζυγωτός (zygōtós) 'joined, yoked', from ζυγοῦν (zygoun) 'to join, to yoke') is a eukaryotic cell formed by a fertilization event between two gametes. The zygote's genome is a combination of the DNA in each gamete, and contains all of the genetic information necessary to form a new individual organism.
In multicellular organisms, the zygote is the earliest developmental stage. In humans and most other anisogamous organisms, a zygote is formed when an egg cell is fertilized by a sperm cell. In single-celled organisms, the zygote can divide asexually by mitosis to produce identical offspring.
In fungi, the sexual fusion of haploid cells is called karyogamy. The result of karyogamy is the formation of a diploid cell called the zygote or zygospore. This cell may then enter meiosis or mitosis depending on the life cycle of the species.
In plants, the zygote may be polyploid if fertilization occurs between meiotically unreduced gametes.
In land plants, the zygote is formed within a chamber called the archegonium. In seedless plants, the archegonium is usually flask-shaped, with a long hollow neck through which the sperm cell enters. As the zygote divides and grows, it does so inside the archegonium.
In human fertilization, a released ovum (a haploid secondary oocyte with replicate chromosome copies) and a haploid sperm cell (male gamete)—combine to form a single 2n diploid cell called the zygote. Once the single sperm fuses with the oocyte, the latter completes the division of the second meiosis forming a haploid daughter with only 23 chromosomes, almost all of the cytoplasm, and the male pronucleus. The other product of meiosis is the second polar body with only chromosomes but no ability to replicate or survive. In the fertilized daughter, DNA is then replicated in the two separate pronuclei derived from the sperm and ovum, making the zygote's chromosome number temporarily 4n diploid. After approximately 30 hours from the time of fertilization, a fusion of the pronuclei and immediate mitotic division produce two 2n diploid daughter cells called blastomeres.
Between the stages of fertilization and implantation, the developing human is a preimplantation conceptus. There is some dispute about whether this conceptus should no longer be referred to as an embryo, but should now be referred to as a proembryo, which is the terminology that traditionally has been used to refer to plant life. Some ethicists and legal scholars make the argument that it is incorrect to call the conceptus an embryo because it will later differentiate into both intraembryonic and extraembryonic tissues, and can even split to produce multiple embryos (identical twins). Others have pointed out that so-called extraembryonic tissues are really part of the embryo's body that are no longer used after birth (much as milk teeth fall out after childhood). Further, as the embryo splits to form identical twins – leaving the original tissues intact – new embryos are generated, in a process similar to that of cloning an adult human. In the US the National Institutes of Health has determined that the traditional classification of pre-implantation embryo is still correct.
After fertilization, the conceptus travels down the oviduct towards the uterus while continuing to divide mitotically without actually increasing in size, in a process called cleavage. After four divisions, the conceptus consists of 16 blastomeres, and it is known as the morula. Through the processes of compaction, cell division, and blastulation, the conceptus takes the form of the blastocyst by the fifth day of development, just as it approaches the site of implantation. When the blastocyst hatches from the zona pellucida, it can implant in the endometrial lining of the uterus and begin the embryonic stage of development.
The human zygote has been genetically edited in experiments designed to cure inherited diseases.
The formation of a totipotent zygote with the potential to produce a whole organism depends on epigenetic reprogramming. DNA demethylation of the paternal genome in the zygote appears to be an important part of epigenetic reprogramming. In the paternal genome of the mouse, demethylation of DNA, particularly at sites of methylated cytosines, is likely a key process in establishing totipotency. Demethylation involves the processes of base excision repair and possibly other DNA- repair- based mechanisms.
A Chlamydomonas zygote contains chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) from both parents; such cells are generally rare, since normally cpDNA is inherited uniparentally from the mt+ mating type parent. These rare biparental zygotes allowed mapping of chloroplast genes by recombination.
In the amoeba, reproduction occurs by cell division of the parent cell: first the nucleus of the parent divides into two and then the cell membrane also cleaves, becoming two "daughter" Amoebae.