Science fiction is one step closer to becoming science fact - at least, that’s what reproductive researchers are hoping to prove in their latest space-age experiments. Dr. Montserrat Boada from Dexeus Women’s Health in Barcelona used frozen sperm to discover the potential effects of space travel on human reproduction. Boada revealed her findings on June 24th at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Vienna. It would appear that human sperm samples might be able to survive the microgravity conditions found in outer space, giving hope to the innovators who aim to colonize other planets in the future.
Although Dr. Boada’s report is far from conclusive, the earth-bound experiment will serve as a launching point for space-based human reproduction. Sex in space might be impractical for several reasons, not the least of which is the relative weightlessness of each consenting party. Other experts pointed out that embryos would be exposed to intense levels of cosmic radiation much higher than what humans experience within the protective layer of our planet’s atmosphere.
Microgravity, the term used to describe the minimal gravitational force experienced during space travel, has a detrimental effect on circulation and respiration. These effects have been proven in several published studies, but no parallel research on the human reproductive process exists. Until now.
In order to simulate microgravity, Boada partnered with a team of microgravity engineers from the Polytechnic University of Barcelona along with several members of an amateur flying club. Researchers collected sperm samples from ten healthy volunteers and froze the samples via the same process used in many fertility treatments. Boada’s crew then strapped the frozen sperm into a two-seat aerobatic aircraft built to perform aerial stunts. Then the fun began: the amateur flight team took the sperm samples through their paces, subjecting them to 20 different acrobatic maneuvers. The aerial tricks created conditions similar to the microgravity of outer space as well as intense gravitational pressure. Some stunts exposed the chilled sperm cells to pressure as high as two or three g-forces!
After the dizzying flight, scientists thawed the sperm and compared them to sperm that had never been subjected to simulated space travel. Researchers analyzed the little swimmers using seven criteria for sperm health, including motility and DNA fragmentation. Boada’s team concluded the space-sperm had no significant differences when compared to the earth-sperm.
It seems there is no alteration of frozen human sperm samples after exposure to microgravity. - Dr. Boada
Dr. Joseph Tash, professor emeritus at the University of Kansas Medical Center, was quick to point out the limitations of the experiment. “This conclusion fails to consider the realities of sperm bank requirements for use in safe human reproduction, nor the realities of the space flight conditions under chronic exposure to microgravity and space flight radiation.” Tash is leading a study for NASA to explore sperm viability using samples from the International Space Station. His findings are due to be released later this year.
While Boada’s space-sperm experiment might not be the definitive answer to the question of human reproduction in outer space, it gives scientists hope for the future. Her findings will help shape future research to make space colonization possible. And that’s a scientific fact!
SOURCE: Live Science