73 healthy offspring were born to mice impregnated with sperm that’d been frozen for over 288 days. The sperm had been in a freezer in the International Space Station (ISS) for over nine months, where radiation levels are roughly 100 times higher than they are on Earth. Despite this, the female mice gave birth to offspring that showed no signs of genetic mutation or negative effects from radiation.
Due to the fact that this is the first such experiment conducted on a mammalian species, it remains unclear as to whether or not these findings can be applicable to other species within this genus. However, should findings remain consistent in replications of this experiment, it could mean a major step forward in the quest for sustaining human life on alien worlds.
As it currently stands, the vast majority of the known universe is uninhabitable for humans largely due to levels of radiation that have the capacity to damage DNA sequences and cell replication. So far, the focus of much of humanity’s space explorations has centered around finding planets with the capacity to host liquid water, as well as be encompassed by an atmosphere similar in chemical makeup to our own. However, if human beings are going to live and flourish in either natural or artificial circumstances found or created on other planets, it will be necessary that reproduction remains a safe and fruitful process, which is where frozen sperm will come in.
In order to ensure that genetically-healthy and fertile populations are being sustained—
regardless of the environmental circumstances— it is necessary that the gene pool remain as diverse as possible, which counteracts any negative effects from possible inbreeding. That being the case, there must be an increase in the number of studies conducted upon mammalian sperm frozen in similar conditions before a planet such as Mars, for example, could be declared safe for human habitation in the long run.
Lead photo by Kapa65 / Pixabay, CC0
Top photo by mangtronix / Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Natalie Wickstrom is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia. She most likely wrote this piece to the tune of a movie score whilst chewing gum.