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article imageFirst use of freeze-dried, microgravity sperm

By Tim Sandle     May 25, 2017 in Science
Tokyo - Frozen 'space sperm' has passed a fertility test. Japanese scientists have produced healthy mice pups, born using freeze-dried sperm that was stored in the microgravity environment of space.
The research is important for astronauts seeking to go on deep space missions: will fertility be affected? The results so far suggest that male sperm will not be affected, although further study will be needed to assess whether the results for mice are applicable to humans. Looking further into the future, the findings will be useful should any consideration be given to breeding animals on a space station.
For the time being, the study, performed on the International Space Station, indicates that transporting sperm away from Earth for a prolonged period of time, and holding it under microgravity conditions, is feasible. Microgravity is the condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless. The research, Science magazine states, further suggests that sperm could be created from an animal or human on the space station (or a near Earth object, like the Moon) and then transported back to Earth where fertility would be unaffected.
Before the University of Yamanashi research was undertaken there were concerns that conditions on board the International Space Station (ISS) would affect sperm fertility. This is because:
Radiation is more than 100 times higher on the ISS than on Earth. The typical daily dose is 0.5 millisievert (mSv) from the cosmic rays. In theory this could damage the DNA code inside sperm (the scientific unit of measurement for radiation dose, commonly referred to as effective dose, is the millisievert).
Microgravity can affect the movement of sperm, and this could also affect fertility.
With the new study, freeze-dried mouse sperm samples were stored, the BBC reports, on ISS for nine months. The sperm was then returned to Earth, thawed at room temperature and used to fertilize female mice. Some DNA damage was noted with the sperm; however, 73 healthy pups were born.
The research has been released in the journal PNAS. The paper is titled "Healthy offspring from freeze-dried mouse spermatozoa held on the International Space Station for 9 months."
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