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After 9 months in space, mouse sperm yield healthy mice

23 May 2017

Having kids in space or on other planets is an important topic for those with dreams of establishing a colony on Mars or elsewhere beyond Earth.

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.

"We hope to expand on this study by developing an automatic culturing system for frozen embryos, as well as animal cages to maintain live animals in space, and ultimately to attempt to produce live offspring under space conditions", NASA said. This has the potential to cause DNA damage in mammalian cells and gametes.

Reproduction may be possible in space, Japanese researchers have said, after freeze-dried sperm stored on the International Space Station for nine months produced healthy offspring. Wakayama adds that, "It is possible that if we lengthen the storage time, then the damage caused by radiation will be worse, and the DNA fix mechanism would not be able to cope". Furthermore, a rigorous analysis of the animals' genomes revealed only minor differences from control pups, and the pups from space-preserved sperm developed into adults with normal fertility. Those babies were healthy and were even able to have their own offspring.

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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.

Professor Teruhiko Wakayama, one of the main University of Yamanashi academics involved in the project, stated, "It is possible that the fix mechanism of the DNA, that is derived from eggs, was effective in repairing any damage to the sperm DNA". It's potentially good news if, one day, animals and people will have to reproduce beyond Earth. The effects of space radiation and zero gravity were not clear but what was clear was that reproduction was a possibility. It was also found that fertilization among fellow space mice was possible - with great-grandchild mice even being born - and it was confirmed that there are no abnormalities relating to appearance or life span.

Previous developmental studies in space have involved, among other things, fish and amphibians.

"The ISS orbit is within the protection of the Van Allen radiation belt - the magnetic field that diverts most high energy radiation particles from hitting the earth or the ISS". The study was published May 22 in the journal PNAS, and researchers noted that the object of the study was to see if sperm experienced extensive DNA damage while in orbit around Earth.

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The researchers fertilised mouse embryos with sperm from either space-preserved or control samples and transferred them into female mice.

The effect of this radiation on sperm cells could pose serious reproductive problems for space-dwelling organisms, including humans, the researchers said.

He said the actual risk of radiation damage at the Moon and beyond would be much higher.

"Given the nine month gestation for humans, the pregnant mother would also need to be protected by such a facility". But performing the same kind of trials with mammals is trickier. "This future study will aim to find out whether mammalian embryo can develop without gravity or not", Wakayama concluded.

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After 9 months in space, mouse sperm yield healthy mice