We all learn that life begins when egg meets sperm, but sometimes things need a helping hand. There are almost 50 million infertile couples in the world who cannot conceive naturally, and many turn to in vitro fertilisation (IVF). ‘In vitro’ literally means ‘in glass’ and that is exactly what happens – the egg is fertilised outside the body in a glass dish. Here, an extremely fine needle (on the right) is being used to inject a single sperm into a human egg. This delicate process must be carried out under a microscope. On the left, the tip of a tiny glass pipette is used to hold the egg steady. If fertilisation is successful, the egg is allowed to develop into an embryo before being transferred to the mother’s womb. The first successful IVF baby was born in 1978, and since then the procedure has helped countless couples become parents.
Written by Emma Stoye
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.