A doctor about to perform a partial hysterectomy on a patient has inadvertently caught the moment of ovulation on camera. The pictures have been published in the New Scientist magazine, and will also be reproduced in Fertility and Sterility.
Observing ovulation in humans is very difficult, and previous images have been very fuzzy. Jacques Donnez, of the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, observed the process, and commented, 'the release of the oocyte from the ovary is a crucial event in human reproduction'.
The pictures have changed the perception of human ovulation, which was thought to be an explosive affair, whereas, in reality, the process takes about 15 minutes. The follicle, a fluid-filled sac on the surface of the ovary, contains the egg. Prior to the egg's release, enzymes are released that break down the tissue in the follicle, causing a red protrusion to appear. A hole becomes visible in the protrusion out of which an egg is released. The egg then moves to the fallopian tube, which transports it to the uterus. When the egg is released it is only about the size of a full stop.
There are no immediate scientific findings resulting from the pictures, but they do give a greater insight into the ovulation process. Professor Alan McNeilly, of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Unit, said 'it really is a pivotal moment in the whole process, the beginnings of life in a way'.