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Space travel damages sperm cells. Houston, we have a problem

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Spending a lot of time in the space may damage sperm cells and can also lead to infertility, reveals a new study.

Researchers at the University of Kansas have found that zero gravity situations in the space can affect male as well as female reproductive organs. Space radiation is also believed to damage sperm in male astronauts and ovaries in female astronauts. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also freeze the sperm and ovaries of its astronauts in case if they need it in future.

Dr. Joseph Tash from the Molecular and Integrative Physiology department at the University of Kansas, who also led the study, explains that they suspended the hind legs of lab rats in a way that would mimic zero gravity conditions as faced by astronauts.

The researchers found that these rats did not produce functional sperm cells that after being exposed to microgravity conditions and became infertile. However, these rats still had a strong urge to mate.

Dr. Tash explains that when astronauts return back from the space they may not feel any difference in their sexual behavior but they may be unaware that they will not be able to reproduce. The study also suggests that some female astronauts have previously reported to have faced difficulties in conceiving after returning from space.

"We don't really have the human data to really determine whether what we are seeing in the animals is translatable to humans. But we are seeing big impacts in the animals," says Dr. Tash.

Astronauts returning from space have reported many health problems. Space flight syndrome, which reduces the bone mass and accelerates cell aging, has been experienced by many astronauts. Similarly, about 80 percent of all astronauts returning from the space after six to eight weeks have also complained of eye problems.

Dr. Tash suggests that the current study is important as it can give more insights about reproduction in zero gravity conditions. Scientists will also send about 20 female mice to the International Space Station (ISS) for about 60 days to understand the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation on these mice. 

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