Making History With Alien Mice

China just disclosed an amazing feat. For the first time ever, scientists have successfully developed early-stage mammalian embryos in space. The satellite upon which the experiment took place is expected to return to Earth next week, and with it, the developing mouse embryos.

The experiment is a collaborative work between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the European Space Agency.

SJ-10, the research probe that contains the will-be baby mice, was launched to space on April 6. It was carrying more than 6,000 mouse embryos in a self-sufficient chamber that is about the size of a microwave oven. Of the thousands of cells, 600 were put under observation.

Using high-resolution cameras that took photos of the embryos every four hours for four days, the scientists were able to record the development of the cells.

Photos from the satellite show the growth of the embryos from the 2-cell stage up to the blastocyst stage. The scientists report that the timing of the cell growth was in line with that of the cells here on Earth.

Mice embryos in the blastocyst stage taken 80 hours after the launch of SJ-10. Credit: CAS

Multiple Goals

At 72 hours after the launch, the rest of the embryos on the probe were injected with fixatives to see how the space environment can affect embryonic development.

Reports say that the SJ-10 was only designed to last for 15 days, and is expected to land in Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia. Further analyses of the samples, along with comparative studies, will be done as soon as the research probe returns.

And notably, the embryos were not only the setups being observed. The probe is said to be housing a total of 19 experimental setups that include observations on fluid physics, combustion, and biological effects in microgravity.

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