The most well-travelled mouse sperm in history left Earth in 2013, its destination being the International Space Station (ISS). After almost six years of soaking high levels of cosmic radiation in space, the free-dried sperm was brought back to the planet in a SpaceX shuttle and used to breed litters here on Earth to assess how it held up over time in outer space. The result was astonishing, to say the least. The study, conducted by a group of Japanese researchers, found that despite being stored in space for years, the mouse sperm remained viable and produced a number of “healthy, normal” pups.
The results of the study, published in the journal Science Advances on Friday, showed that the freeze-fried mouse sperm had resulted in the birth of 168 health pups, free of any genetic defects whatsoever. In fact, there was seen to exist little difference between mice fertilized by space sperm and sperm that remained confined here on Earth, said developmental biologist and lead author of the study Teruhiko Wakayama to news agency AFP. He added that all the pups had a normal appearance and lacked any abnormalities.
The viability of freeze-dried mouse sperm in space might not sound like a macher in scientific advances, but it shows a way or two about humanity’s hopes for long-term intergalactic travel. If mankind ever hopes to travel to other planets solar systems or perhaps galaxies away, they will need to seriously think about long-term space colonies, which will require researchers to come up with viable ways of ensuring mammalian reproduction, not just of humans but of other animals too, survives the onslaught of cosmic radiation in outer space.
Wakayama, the lead researcher for the said study, seems to have been inspired by the science fiction of Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov himself. Although he originally wanted to be an astronaut, he later settled on becoming a scientist, always amazed by the sense of wonder over space exploration, he told AFP.Wakayama and his colleagues at the University of Yamanashi in Japan had launched the three boxloads of mouse sperm, each containing 48 ampules of the freeze-fried material, to the ISS back in 2013 for long-term study. Now the director for Advanced Biotechnology Center at the University of Yamanashi, Wakayama is quite satisfied with the results and said that in the future, humans will need to maintain the diversity of genetic resources, not only for humans but also for pets and domestic animals, for long-term space travel and also as a failsafe in case of a disaster on Earth. The freeze-dried sperm used in the study could be stored for up to 200 years on board the orbital outpost, the team’s calculations revealed.