Mouse embryos grown in space for the first time
Sylvie Claire / October 31, 2023
This research into mammal reproduction in space could prove crucial for future solar system exploration missions.
Mouse embryos were grown on board the International Space Station (ISS) and developed normally, according to a Japanese study published in the scientific journal "iScience" on Saturday, October 28.
This is "the very first study to show that mammals might be able to thrive in space", claim Yamanashi University and the Riken National Research Institute.
The researchers, including Teruhiko Wakayama, a professor at Yamanashi University's Center for Advanced Biotechnology, and a team from the Japanese space agency Jaxa, sent frozen mouse embryos aboard a rocket to the ISS in August 2021. The astronauts thawed the embryos at an early stage, using a specially designed device, and cultured them on board the station for four days.
The experiment "clearly demonstrated that gravity had no significant effect", noted the researchers. After analyzing the blastocysts (cells that develop into fetuses and placentas) that were returned to their laboratories on Earth, they observed no particular changes in the state of DNA and genes.
"In the future, it will be necessary to transplant blastocysts grown in microgravity on the ISS into mice to see if the mice can give birth," in order to confirm that the blastocysts are normal, say Yamanashi University and the Riken Institute.
This research could prove crucial for future space exploration and colonization missions. As part of its Artemis program, NASA plans to send humans back to the Moon to learn how to live there in the long term, and to prepare for a trip to Mars in the late 2030s.