Japanese scientists successfully bred healthy mice using sperm that spent 288 days in space, according to a study released Monday.
Researchers launched a freeze-dried sperm sample to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2013, which came back to Earth in 2014. Scientists then used the sperm to impregnate a mouse and found that baby mice born from this process were healthy and grew to adulthood with normal fertility.
Radiation from space slightly damaged the sperm’s DNA, but scientists found that mouse embryos were able to adapt to this. The average daily radiation dose on the ISS is roughly 100 times stronger than on Earth. It’s not enough to be a major health risk, but it can cause reproductive problems with continued exposure.
The findings could have significant ramifications for human space colonies, scientists say. The study suggests that humans could reproduce in space, allowing space missions to last for multiple generations. Scientists say that reproductive materials could even be shipped to colonies on distant worlds where humans and animals could be born.
“Not necessarily for healthy people – however, on the ground, many couples require assisted reproductive technology to make babies, and it would continue in the future, including in space,” Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama, a professor of biotechnology at the University of Yamanashi who was involved in the research, told The Guardian. “Our study suggests that sperm preservation in space is possible for at least nine months.”
“Although those sperm had a little bit of damage by space radiation, the following offspring were all normal,” Wakayama added.
The space-preserved samples showed evidence of slightly increased DNA damage compared with control samples preserved on Earth, but scientists found this to be largely repaired in embryos following fertilization.
Previous research of this type had only been successful on fish and amphibians, as mammal sperm is much more difficult to handle in outer space.
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