As humans begin to think seriously about establishing colonies on other planets, we're also beginning to wonder about how animals may make the trip. Stuffing species two by two aboard a space ark might not make sense, but scientists in Japan think they may have the beginnings of a solution: an innovative freeze-drying process that makes it easier to preserve and transport sperm.
"This may sound like a dream, but we could in future take genetic information into space," Dr. Takehito Kaneko, researcher at Kyoto University's Institute of Laboratory Animals Graduate School of Medicine, told Agence France-Press.
Ordinary sperm cryopreservation involves using liquid nitrogen to cool sperm to sub-zero temperatures. Instead of freezing, Kaneko's approach -- developed with an eye toward saving endangered species -- involves treating sperm cells with special liquids. It requires less energy and allows sperm to be stored at 4 degrees Celsius (39° Fahrenheit). Freeze-dried sperm can even survive for short periods at room temperature -- useful for when sperm is transported, or in the case of power failures.
Kaneko's team has shown that sperm cells preserved via the new technique are able to produce viable offspring -- at least in mice. And the newest additions to the "freeze-drying zoo," as Kaneko calls it, include sperm from two endangered primates and a giraffe, Discovery News reported.
Could humans be next on the list? Is it crazy to dream about whipping up batches of humans to populate new planets? Kaneko's mum about the tantalizing possibility. For now, Kaneko's team is focused on applying the new technique to preserving animals' eggs, according to AFP.