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What does fine wine have to do with human eggs (oocytes)?

By on August 21, 2014

 

Over the past 2 weeks I was fortunate enough to enjoy a vacation along the Southern California coast.  From the restaurants of Los Angeles, to the beaches of Santa Barbara, I spent time enjoying the varied treasures of the lower half of the state. One of the highlights of the trip was a weekend spent in the Santa Barbra Wine Country.  Perusing through the vineyards, breathing the fresh air and talking to winemakers was both educational and inspiring, not to mention tasty!

Interestingly, all the talk about grapes and science behind their cultivation and quality got me thinking about oocytes and the science behind their cultivation and quality.  This blog post will discuss these similarities as well as one big difference.

Quality is more important than quantity……….but quantity is still important

For both grapes and eggs, quality is more important than quantity.  With eggs, this is exemplified by the fact that the human body naturally selects only a single egg every month for ovulation.  In fact, most women have about 500,000 eggs available for the duration their reproductive lifetimes.  Of those eggs, only 500 ever get released.  In other words, our bodies have chosen to focus on quality (the right egg) over quantity (many eggs). 

It seems this is also true for wine.  Winemakers spend a great deal of time trying to get their vines to produce just the right amount of high quality fruit.  When a vine overproduces, the fruit can be too dilute to make good wine.  Some wine makers will prune buds from each plant to limit the amount of grapes and optimize each grape’s quality.

In both circumstances however, quantity is still important.  Without adequate grapes or eggs, the options and chances for success can be limited.

The timing for “harvest” is critically important. 

As fall approaches, winemakers must choose the optimal time to harvest their grapes.  If the grapes are taken off the vines too early or too late, the wine can be ruined.  To aid their timing decision, winemakers test the soil, measure the sugar content of sample grapes and look to past harvests for guidance. 

This is similar to a cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF) where the doctor puts forth great effort to determine just the right time to retrieve eggs from the ovaries.  By testing hormone levels, measuring follicle size and looking at past cycles, the physician can optimize the number and quality of eggs available. 

Natural variables are important and can have unpredictable effects.

The amount and timing of rain, the intensity and duration of sun, wind speeds, temperature changes, irrigation run-off, infections, and a host of other variables can change a grape harvest from one year to the next.  While winemakers are good at predicting the success of a crop, there are invariably some factors which make some years better than others.

Similarly, some months are better than others in terms of egg production.  Factors such as hormone levels, ovarian cysts, overall health and social situations can all have separate impacts on the oocytes.  For this reason, choosing the right month for fertility treatment is an important part of the process. 

Freezing can be okay as long as the thaw is done correctly.

In Southern California, freezing grapes is actually never okay, but in some regions, grapes are not harvested until they are frozen.  These grapes make ice wine and can be quite delicious.  The critical step to making ice wine is that the grapes are harvested while they are frozen.  If they grapes thaw on the vine, they cannot be used.  Thus freezing doesn’t hurt the grape, but the thaw may.

Eggs also can be frozen without damage.  For many years, thawing the eggs however lead to significant disruption and ultimately prevented preservation attempts.  For the past several years a new freezing technique called vitrification freezes the egg in a way that prevents damage during the thaw process.  With this technology, oocyte preservation has become a reality. 

Unlike wine….eggs do NOT improve with age.

While the similarities abound, one big difference between wine and oocytes is that wine often becomes better as time goes on.  Unfortunately, the same is not true for eggs.  We know that there is an inverse relationship between the age of an egg and the chance that it can become a baby.  Therefore, while it is encouraged to save wine for a later day, it is better to get eggs as soon as you can.

If you have questions about eggs or reproduction please feel free to contact us, we are happy to speak with you.   

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