Can humans survive and reproduce beyond our Earth? Can we viably breed in space? A team of Chinese researchers are positive that we can after they found out that mouse embryos sent into outer orbit could make the transition to an important stage of development.
A group of 6,000 mouse embryos sent on the microgravity SJ-10 satellite of China that was launched this month have been able to develop to the stage that immediately precedes implantation, the process whereby the embryo which has become a blastocyst, places itself into the wall of the uterus.
This finding marks the first time mammalian embryos have successfully undergone development in space. This is why the researchers are hopeful that humans might, one day, be able to breed out there. The very aim of the research is to understand whether humans can live and reproduce in outer space as it is possible on Earth, explains lead author Duan Enkui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Enkui and his team are able to monitor all 6,000 embryos from their closed chamber onboard the SJ-10 thanks to high-resolution photos sent to Earth every 4-hour interval. The team found that the development occurred throughout a 96-hour period, similar to the earthly one.
The SJ-10 houses 20 different experiments. It will return to Earth in a few days’ time. When this happens, the embryos will be examined in a more in-depth manner; the researchers will attempt to identify any major difference in the progression of their development from the normal embryo development on Earth.
This research was described as “one small step for mouse embryos, one giant leap for human reproduction” by a scientists interviewed by China.org.cn.