China's Space Mission Successfully Grows Embryos In Space, A Breakthrough In Human Space Exploration

First Posted: Apr 18, 2016 05:50 AM EDT

A successful experiment conducted aboard the SJ-10, China's recoverable satellite, proves that early‐stage mammal embryos can be developed in space. According to reports, the breakthrough research carried out on the country's first microgravity satellite paves a new way in showing that cells can successfully multiply in space.

According to a report on the Chinese Government's authorized portal, the experiments were carried out on an orbital model. The SJ-10 satellite was launched on April 6 and the return capsule will remain in orbit for some more days before heading back to Earth. High-resolution photographs sent from the satellite show that mouse embryos developed successfully over a continuous period of 96 hours.

More than 6,000 mouse embryos were carried in the SJ-10. The embryos were stored in a self-sufficient and enclosed chamber, which is approximately as big as a microwave. Every aspect related to the development of the embryos, from the cell culture system to the nutrient solution, was zeroed in only after hundreds of tests were conducted on ground. Every four hours a camera took photographs of the embryos, which were then sent back to the earth. On the basis of the images, it was observed that some of the embryos formed into advanced blastocysts in a span of four days. Incidentally, blastocysts are structures that can be implanted into the womb.

"The human race may still have a long way to go before we can colonize space but, before that, we have to figure out whether it is possible for us to survive and reproduce in outer space like we do on Earth" said Duan Enkui, professor at Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. "Now, we have finally proven that the most crucial step in our reproduction-early embryo development-is possible in outer space."

This is not the first attempt to develop embryos in space; however, this is the first mission that has led to successful results as per reports. The foremost attempt to develop mammalian embryos in space was made aboard the NASA's STS-80 Spacecraft in 1996, which carried 49 mouse embryos. The second attempt was made by China on its SJ-8 satellite that carried four-cell embryos in its orbital module. Both the first and second attempts were unsuccessful in developing embryos in space. Therefore, according to reports, the breakthrough represents an important achievement for human space exploration. 

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