Ova are produced in the ovary of the female; they are formed from reproductive cells (called primordial germ cells) in a process called oogenesis. In this maturation process a germ cell builds up its food supply and then undergoes a series of cell divisions (called meiosis), by which the number of chromosomes in the mature ovum is reduced by half. In oogenesis in animals only one of the four cells formed by meiotic division is functional. In this ovum all the yolk from the original cell is collected; the three other, yolkless, cells are called polar bodies and never develop further. Maturation also occurs in the formation of sperm (spermatogenesis), but in spermatogenesis, in contrast to oogenesis, all four of the cells formed by meiotic division are functional.
The union of mature sperm and ovum, each bearing half the normal number of chromosomes, results in a single cell (the zygote) with a full number of chromosomes. The zygote undergoes a series of cell divisions (see mitosis) producing a multicellular embryo and finally a mature individual. In all sexually reproducing animals the production and maturation of the ovum, its fertilization, and its early embryonic development are essentially identical.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.