Mammalian embryos can grow in space

We have a long way to go before we can colonize space, though.

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Mariella Moon
April 19th, 2016
In this article: china, embryo, mammal, science, Shijian10, SJ-10, space
Mammalian embryos can grow in space

An experiment aboard China's Shijian 10 (SJ-10) satellite has proven that mammalian embryos can develop in space, according to the country's state-ran media. SJ-10, the country's recoverable spacecraft, left Earth on April 6th carrying 19 experiments, including 6,000 embryos inside a sealed, microwave-sized container. China's scientists wanted to know if they'd grow as they would here on Earth. After all, if we want our descendants to colonize space, we must first be sure that our species can reproduce outside our planet.

China Daily, an English-language newspaper in the Asian country, says the spacecraft sent back data and images taken from within the chamber housing the specimens every four hours. One of the photos it posted was captured four hours before SJ-10 blasted off, while the other showing the embryos in their more advanced blastocyst stage was captured 80 hours after it left Earth.

Since it's a short experiment, we still don't know if the embryos would have grown properly to produce live mice. SJ-10's lead researcher Duan Enkui says, however, that while we have a ways to go before becoming a spacefaring species, we at least know now that "the most crucial step in our reproduction" is possible outside the planet.

Shijian 10's re-entry capsule has just landed in Mongola carrying 11 of the 19 experiments. The other eight are still in orbit aboard the other half of the spacecraft. Despite spending 12 days in orbit, the embryos are frozen in the blastocyst stage you see below, as the scientists used chemicals to prevent them from developing any further. Authorities will ship the blastocysts to Beijing, where they will be studied and compared to embryos that developed here at home.

[Image credit: ChinaDaily (in-line embryo pictures)]

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