Mouse sperm sur­vives in space, but could hu­man ba­bies?

New Straits Times - - World -

MI A M I: Freeze-dried mouse sperm that spent nine months in space has been used to pro­duce healthy ro­dent off­spring back on Earth, Ja­panese re­searchers said.

But, could the same hold true for hu­mans? And, if con­cep­tion were even pos­si­ble in space, would ba­bies born in zero grav­ity de­velop dif­fer­ently than their Earth-bound coun­ter­parts?

As Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion and other global space agen­cies work on pro­pel­ling peo­ple to Mars by the 2030s, ex­perts say es­sen­tial ques­tions of sur­vival on the Red Planet are of­ten over­looked.

A key com­po­nent to colonis­ing other plan­ets would be hav­ing ba­bies, said Kris Lehn­hardt, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in emer­gency medicine at The Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity School of Medicine and Health Sci­ences.

“If your goal is to even­tu­ally be a truly space-far­ing species, then this is an es­sen­tial area to study.

“It is a com­pletely un­known area of science.”

A study in Mon­day’s edi­tion of the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences was an “in­ter­est­ing step”, said Lehn­hardt.

Mouse sperm was freeze-dried and sent for nine months to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion 400km above Earth.

When the ship­ment re­turned, lead re­searcher Teruhiko Wakayama of the Univer­sity of Ya­manashi found the space sperm had sus­tained “slightly in­creased DNA dam­age”, af­ter en­dur­ing an av­er­age daily ra­di­a­tion dose about 100 times stronger than on Earth.

Back on Earth, em­bryos fer­tilised in-vitro with the sperm pro­duced healthy off­spring, and grew into nor­mal adults, “sug­gest­ing that the DNA dam­age ob­served in the space-pre­served sperm samples was largely re­paired in em­bryos af­ter fer­til­i­sa­tion”, said the re­port.

For re­searchers who ex­am­ined the ef­fect of deep space ra­di­a­tion on the re­pro­duc­tive or­gans of fe­male mice, the news is not good.

A study pub­lished in the jour­nal Re­pro­duc­tion this month showed that dam­age to the ovaries of fe­male mice ex­posed to charged par­ti­cles is typ­i­cal of space ra­di­a­tion, “rais­ing con­cern for pre­ma­ture ovar­ian fail­ure in as­tro­nauts” ex­posed to deep space travel, it said.

“These types of ex­po­sures can cause early ovar­ian fail­ure and can­cer, as well as os­teo­poro­sis, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and neu­rocog­ni­tive dis­eases like Alzheimer’s,” said one of the study’s au­thors, Ul­rike Lud­erer, a pro­fes­sor of medicine at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia in Irvine.

“Half the as­tro­nauts in the Nasa’s new classes are women. So it is im­por­tant to know what health ef­fects there could be for women ex­posed to long-term deep space ra­di­a­tion.” AFP

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