Science

Biologists close to the "resurrection" of the white Rhino

Biologists close to the

A team of global researchers may have found a way to save the critically endangered northern white rhino using in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Thomas Hildebrandt of the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and colleagues in the Czech Republic and Italy, as well as in Japan, started an all-out effort to create new white rhinos in the lab.

Scientists plan to take egg cells from the still living northern rhinoceros females in autumn of this year, and to fertilize them with stored sperm from the same species.

The last surviving male northern white rhino, named Sudan, died earlier this year at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, aged 45.

The two rhinos you see in the image below are called Najin and Fatu, the last two northern white rhinos (NWR) known to be alive today.

It is the first time the assisted reproduction technique, adapted from horses and cattle, has ever been used on rhinos.

Several embryos have been frozen for future implantation into the wombs of surrogate mothers. On the other hand, there are still about 21,000 southern white rhinos living in Africa.

Saving the northern white rhino has become an global effort, with cooperation but also some rivalry among scientists and institutions around the world, including zoos in San Diego and Cincinnati.

That is why scientists, alongside with artificial reproduction methods, also work on stem cells development derived from the stem cells obtained from the northern white rhinoceros that have been preserved in the past.

The only hope for the northern white rhino is to join that list.




A team of worldwide scientists has performed the first ever in vitro fertilisation for a rhinoceros and researchers say frozen sperm could be used to create new embryos.

The resulting embryos can grow for up to 13 days to the blastocyst stage, the point at which they could be implanted in the uterus of a surrogate female.

The new embryos shouldn't take away from other conservation efforts, and the Save the Rhino group states that the focus should be on protecting natural habitats and other critically endangered rhino species as well.

While this won't bring back the complete species, it would be a major breakthrough and ensure genetic continuity for the northern white rhinos, even after they'll go extinct. "We hope that the current achievement will help us to convince more people as well as public authorities that this new approach is feasible and worth supporting", Steven Seet, Head of Press & Communications at the Leibniz - IZW.

"What we've done is very similar to what's done to couples with fertility problems", Galli said. First, that rhino eggs can be captured from live females.

The scientists hope they could make enough rhino babies this way to have a genetically diverse population that could, eventually, be re-introduced into their traditional range.

The idea that assisted reproductive technology might play a role in species conservation has been around since the 1970s.

Speaking about the near extinction of the northern white rhino species, Dr Hildebrandt said: "The northern white rhino didn't fail in evolution, it failed because it was not bulletproof".

Because the sperm comes from a few rhinoceros bulls, limited genetic diversity could endanger the health of a newly bred northern white rhino population. "We should come at it with everything we've got", Roth said.


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