Space Sperm Produces Healthy Mice on Earth

Mouse pups derived from space-preserved

Mouse pups derived from space-preserved

Scientists are now unclear on whether reproductive mechanisms can handle those conditions and still go on to turn sperm and eggs into offspring. Can space voyagers conceive healthy human babies?

Sustaining life in space is challenging to say the least.

However, this damage did not seem to affect fertility or offspring health. While sea urchin sperm also didn't do so well, fish, fruit flies, and nematodes successfully reproduced.

In 1988, German researchers sent a sample of bull semen into orbit on a rocket and discovered that sperm were able to swim much faster in low gravity, although it was not clear whether this gave a fertility advantage.

The "space pup" experiment, which examined the effects of radiation on reproduction, marked the longest period mammalian sperm has been preserved in space.

After being freeze-dried and spending nine months orbiting Earth on the International Space Station (ISS), mouse sperm has produced a bunch of healthy mice, according to researchers from Japan.

The space radiation that the mouse sperm was exposed to is approximately 100 times more intense than that on Earth, and 75 percent of the DNA of the sperm stored in space was damaged. The average birth rates from the two kinds of samples were comparable, and the ratio of male to female in the two kinds of pups fell within the normal range, the researchers said.

However he said it was possible that over a longer period in space, sperm damage would increase and move beyond the limit of the oocyte's capacity for fix. A select few were allowed to mate and became mums and dads themselves.

According to The Verge, while there was a bit of damage to sperm kept in space, it did not affect the embryos that developed from that sperm later on in the environment of the planet earth. For frozen sperm to last much more than a year in space without risking serious damage, more protection from cosmic radiation may be needed.

Once they've cracked that, they can set their sights on the Moon sperm banks.

"If sperm samples are to be preserved for longer periods in space, then it is likely that DNA damage will increase and exceed the limit of the [egg] oocyte's capacity for fix", write the authors, in a report by BBC News.

While not entirely surprising to medical experts, the result is good news for those thinking about whether assisted reproductive technologies could be used to make future space babies if and when humans begin populating worlds beyond this one. So the sperm of rodents was used as a test case to see whether reproduction was viable in outer space or not.

Animals and humans that have evolved on earth, have done so within a framework of gravity and whilst protected by the planet's magnetic field, which deflects the majority of high-energy cosmic particles found in space.

It's a sound victory as far as samples of freeze-dried mouse sperm go - and it adds to our understanding of how reproduction processes are affected by prolonged space exposure. These were also kept at a temperature of -139 degrees Fahrenheit for nine months.

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