In a world first, a group of Japanese scientists successfully grew mouse embryos aboard the International Space Station (ISS), offering hope for human reproduction in space.
How they did it: The team, which consists of researchers from the University of Yamanashi, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and national research institute Riken, developed a device that allowed ISS astronauts to handle early mouse embryos.
In August 2021, they sent the station 720 frozen embryos, which were then cultured for four days. Half of them were cultured in a setting with Earth-like gravity (1G), while the other half in zero gravity. All were then sent back to Earth and compared with embryos cultured similarly.
What they found: The researchers found that embryos cultured in both gravity conditions developed normally, with only minor differences in their development rates. The embryos — 23.6% from microgravity and 31.1% from 1G — developed into blastocysts, or cells that develop to become a fetus and its placenta, and showed no significant changes in their DNA.
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What’s next: The study has important implications for both human reproduction and the colonization of space. The next step, the researchers say, is to transplant zero-gravity blastocysts into mice to confirm that they can deliver healthy offspring.
The study was published in the journal iScience.
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