A Chinese experiment has shown for the first time that mammal embryos are able to develop in space. The experiment, on board China’s SJ-10 recoverable satellite, had more than 6,000 mouse embryos in a self-sufficient chamber. High-resolution photos showed that some of embryos developed into blastocysts within 96 hours of launch.
The SJ-10 was sent to space on April 6 this year, and has now returned to Earth. Researchers retrieved the capsule and the experiments, including the mammal embryos, which will be transferred to Beijing to be analyzed at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
"The human race may still have a long way to go before we can colonize the space [sic]. But before that, we have to figure out whether it is possible for us to survive and reproduce in the outer space environment like we do on Earth," said Professor Duan Enkui, principle researcher of the experiment, to China Daily.
"Now, we finally proved that the most crucial step in our reproduction – the early embryo development – is possible in the outer space."
Mouse embryos that developed into blastocyst 80 hours after the launch. Institute of Zoology, CAS/China Daily
At launch, the embryos were at the two-cell stage of embryogenesis, which happens two days after the egg is fertilized. During their time in space, the fertilized cells developed into blastocysts, a stage in which cell differentiation and structural changes have already taken place. This is the same stage human embryos are implanted in in-vitro fertilization.
The findings from SJ-10 indicate that mammal embryos can indeed develop in space, but there are no indications that this would also be the case for human embryos. And there’s a vast difference between an embryo and the healthy birth of a mammal in space.
[H/T: China Daily]
Top image credit: Human Blastocyst. Prescott Pym via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0