By John Salak –
Let’s file this news under the heading: This is great, but we’re still not handing out our address.
Scientists in Japan have apparently overcome the troubling problem of transporting mouse sperm, which until recently often were damaged when their glass cases broke in transit. Their solution calls for freeze drying sperm on plastic sheets so that samples can withstand being sent via postcards.
This method is not only safer, it’s easier and less expensive than previous shipment methods.
“When I developed this method for preserving mouse sperm by freeze-drying it on a sheet, I thought that it should be able to be mailed on a postcard, and so when offspring were actually born after being mailed, I was very impressed,” says first author Daiyu Ito of the University of Yamanashi in Japan. “The postcard strategy was easier and cheaper compared to any other method. We think the sperm never expected that the day would come when they would be in the mailbox.”
Why is this so important? Transporting and storing sperm is critical for genetic research that can benefit medical research that consequently helps people. It may also clear the way for human sperm to be handled in a similar fashion.
The need to develop new ways to transport sperm took on new immediacy when scientists tried to send it to the space station to determine the impact of space radiation on it. Researchers discovered that using glass ampules (small bottles) were impractical because they needed bulky protective packaging and still broke easily.
Identifying the right plastic sheets was difficult but a trial-and-error effort finally resulted in success. Ito’s team discovered afterwards that this new method of preservation allowed thousands of mouse strain’s sperm being stored in a single “sperm book.” These strains could then be attached to postcards without protection, mailed miles away and remain potent.
One scientist was so excited by this development that he sent a colleague “Happy New Year” card with mouse sperm attached as a gift.
The scientists believe that the “sperm book” and mailing method, once perfected, will have a strong impact in their field worldwide. Their next goal is to be able to store them for at least one month at room temperature. In the future, they also hope to develop a method that will allow the freeze-dried sperm to come back to life and fertilize on their own when they are rehydrated.
“It is now recognized that genetic resources are an asset to humanity’s future,” explained contributor Teruhiko Wakayama, also of Yamanashi. “The plastic sheet preservation method in this study will be the most suitable method for the safe preservation of a large amount of valuable genetic resources because of the resistance to breakage and less space required for storage.”
Admittedly, great news, but it doesn’t necessarily encourage the average person to race to the mailbox.