A team of Japanese scientists set out on a daring experiment, called the “Space Pup”, which looked to better determine the faith of humanity once it sets off traveling in space. More precisely, the researchers analyzed the possibilities of human sexual reproduction after having spent a prolonged period in space.
“The purpose of our project is to know whether mammalian reproduction is possible in space or not,” said Teruhiko Wakayama.
He is a biotechnologist at the University of Yamanashi and part of the study team.
Space Pup is a Success, and Its Results More Important than Believed
Wakayama and his colleagues sent samples of freeze-dried mouse sperm up in space to be stored aboard the International Space Station. These were then kept for 288 days straight, from August 2013 to May 2014.
At the same time, the team stored similar samples, in the same conditions, here on Earth. These were also kept at a temperature of -139 degrees Fahrenheit for nine months.
As the space-bound samples returned to Earth, the team analyzed and compared the two. They established that the space kept sperm was exposed to about 100 times more cosmic radiation than the one here on the planet.
Which did result in some slight DNA damage, however, the samples were still fit for restitution with water. Then, they were used for the in vitro fertilization of female mice. The resulting space pup, or litter of mice, in this case, were healthy.
Not only that, but the mice also had normal birth rates and standard male-to-female ratios. All the registered genetic differences between the two types of pups were also minor.
As the offspring of the Space Pup turned into adults, they also had healthy, normal babies of their own. Which seems to point that any genetic damage incurred while aboard the ISS was repaired naturally, after fertilization. Possibly sometime during the embryonic stage.
The team considers the results of the Space Pup experiment quite a success. They show promise for the future of humanity in the upcoming “space age”, according to the study team.
However, some researchers are less optimistic as they point out the return to Earth and the in vitro fertilization method. More studies on the matter are to be expected, but the current experiment results are available in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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