34.1Reproduction Methods

Reproduction may be asexual when one individual produces genetically identical offspring, or sexual when the genetic material from two individuals is combined to produce genetically diverse offspring. Asexual reproduction occurs through fission, budding, and fragmentation. Sexual reproduction may mean the joining of sperm and eggs within animals’ bodies or it may mean the release of sperm and eggs into the environment. An individual may be one sex, or both; it may start out as one sex and switch during its life, or it may stay male or female.


Sexual reproduction starts with the combination of a sperm and an egg in a process called fertilization. This can occur either outside the bodies or inside the female. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. Once fertilized, the eggs can develop inside the female or outside. If the egg develops outside the body, it usually has a protective covering over it. Animal anatomy evolved various ways to fertilize, hold, or expel the egg. The method of fertilization varies among animals. Some species release the egg and sperm into the environment, some species retain the egg and receive the sperm into the female body and then expel the developing embryo covered with shell, while still other species retain the developing offspring through the gestation period.

34.3Human Reproductive Anatomy and Gametogenesis

As animals became more complex, specific organs and organ systems developed to support specific functions for the organism. The reproductive structures that evolved in land animals allow males and females to mate, fertilize internally, and support the growth and development of offspring. Processes developed to produce reproductive cells that had exactly half the number of chromosomes of each parent so that new combinations would have the appropriate amount of genetic material. Gametogenesis, the production of sperm (spermatogenesis) and eggs (oogenesis), takes place through the process of meiosis.

34.4Hormonal Control of Human Reproduction

The male and female reproductive cycles are controlled by hormones released from the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary as well as hormones from reproductive tissues and organs. The hypothalamus monitors the need for the FSH and LH hormones made and released from the anterior pituitary. FSH and LH affect reproductive structures to cause the formation of sperm and the preparation of eggs for release and possible fertilization. In the male, FSH and LH stimulate Sertoli cells and interstitial cells of Leydig in the testes to facilitate sperm production. The Leydig cells produce testosterone, which also is responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics of males. In females, FSH and LH cause estrogen and progesterone to be produced. They regulate the female reproductive system which is divided into the ovarian cycle and the menstrual cycle. Menopause occurs when the ovaries lose their sensitivity to FSH and LH and the female reproductive cycles slow to a stop.

34.5Fertilization and Early Embryonic Development

The early stages of embryonic development begin with fertilization. The process of fertilization is tightly controlled to ensure that only one sperm fuses with one egg. After fertilization, the zygote undergoes cleavage to form the blastula. The blastula, which in some species is a hollow ball of cells, undergoes a process called gastrulation, in which the three germ layers form. The ectoderm gives rise to the nervous system and the epidermal skin cells, the mesoderm gives rise to the muscle cells and connective tissue in the body, and the endoderm gives rise to columnar cells and internal organs.

34.6Organogenesis and Vertebrate Formation

Organogenesis is the formation of organs from the germ layers. Each germ layer gives rise to specific tissue types. The first stage is the formation of the neural system in the ectoderm. The mesoderm gives rise to somites and the notochord. Formation of vertebrate axis is another important developmental stage.

34.7Human Pregnancy and Birth

Human pregnancy begins with fertilization of an egg and proceeds through the three trimesters of gestation. The labor process has three stages (contractions, delivery of the fetus, expulsion of the placenta), each propelled by hormones. The first trimester lays down the basic structures of the body, including the limb buds, heart, eyes, and the liver. The second trimester continues the development of all of the organs and systems. The third trimester exhibits the greatest growth of the fetus and culminates in labor and delivery. Prevention of a pregnancy can be accomplished through a variety of methods including barriers, hormones, or other means. Assisted reproductive technologies may help individuals who have infertility problems.