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Effect of microgravity on mammalian embryo development evaluated at the International Space Station

Mammalian embryos differentiate into the inner cell mass (ICM) and trophectoderm at the 8–16 cell stage. The ICM forms a single cluster that develops into a single fetus. However, the factors that determine differentiation and single cluster formation are unknown. Here we investigated whether embryos could develop normally without gravity. As the embryos cannot be handled by an untrained astronaut, a new device was developed for this purpose. Using this device, two-cell frozen mouse embryos launched to the International Space Station were thawed and cultured by the astronauts under microgravity for 4 days. The embryos cultured under microgravity conditions developed into blastocysts with normal cell numbers, ICM, trophectoderm, and gene expression profiles similar to those cultured under artificial-1 g control on the International Space Station and ground-1 g control, which clearly demonstrated that gravity had no significant effect on the blastocyst formation and initial differentiation of mammalian embryos.