Researchers on the International Space Station (ISS) was able to use freeze-dried mouse space sperm in female mice. From the female mice, healthy baby mice were born. This finding, recently published in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences suggests that other animals, including humans, may be able to reproduce in space without harm. The mice sperm was stored on the International Space Station for nearly a year at a temperature of minus 139 degrees Fahrenheit.
Teruhiko Wakayama, senior author from the University of Yamanashi in Kofu, Japan conducted the study. After the mice sperm returned to Earth, Wakayama’s team then examined the freeze-dried space sperm to sperm frozen on Earth. Then using in vitro fertilization, the researchers used both types of mice sperm on female mice. According to Space.com, the “samples were comparable” with “minor differences” between the babies.
The researchers needed to examine the possibility of reproduction in space because of the dangers of space radiation. Radiation on the ISS is “more than 100 times higher” than Earth’s radiation, Space.com reported. Meaning, the mice sperm freeze-dried in space was “slightly” more damaged than sperm from Earth. The female mice, however, produced healthy baby mice. These findings suggested that the damaged was repaired “in the embryos after fertilization.”
While freeze-dried sperm can be stored at room temperature for two years, in a freezer, the sperm can be stored “indefinitely.” Space.com added that a “sperm bank” could be used in space, raising a similar “doomsday vault” for sperm. The Global Seed Vault in Norway, currently houses nearly one million different types of seed to guard against climate change and other catastrophes.
Wakayama wrote in the Proceedings for the Natural Academy of Sciences that while space radiation can damage sperm, it did not “affect the production of viable offspring” after nine months at the ISS. The New York Times reported that while the mice sperm was stored for nine months, “longer times in space” could do further damage to the DNA and be beyond the repair of an embryo.
Other experiments are taking place on the ISS, including the research between twins Scott and Mark Kelly, two astronauts. While in space, the human body loses strength, density, and vision is affected. More research must be done before human sperm is freeze-dried in space. One such experiment reported National Geographic will be examining if freeze-dried human sperm is still viable for in vitro fertilization.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy Teruhiko Wakayama