In vitro fertilization might save endangered rhinos
In vitro fertilization might save endangered rhinos
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07 July, 2018, 00:59
A team of worldwide scientists have managed to extract stem cell lines from southern white rhino embryos, a closely related subspecies to the northern white rhino, to develop hybrid rhino embryos, or "test-tube rhinos", reports CNN.
To create the lab-grown embryo, researchers used thawed sperm from previously frozen northern white rhino males.
Now that Professor Hildebrandt and his team have perfected the technique for egg retrieval from rhinos, they have started work to produce a pure northern white rhino embryo.
This could provide a way of "rescuing valuable genes" from a sub-species that is already functionally extinct; the last male northern white rhino, named Sudan, died earlier this year at the age of 45. A death that practically meant the extinction of the species, of which only two females remain, namely, Najin, the daughter of Sudan, and Fatu, its granddaughter.
Fatu is one of two remaining northern white rhinos, both female, who live on a nature reserve in Kenya.
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The NWR can only reproduce in the zoos very slowly. In years to come, there will finally be few true breed northern white rhino calves once again, saving the entire species from the brink of extinction.
This was done while the female southern white rhino was under general anaesthetic, but the process is still very risky.
It may not look much now, but this blastocyst is a major step in the battle to save the northern white rhino.
The resulting egg was fertilized by sperm, taken earlier from Sudan and stored frozen. The procedure had never been attempted among northern and southern white rhinos, according to the study.
In total, Hildebrandt and his colleagues created four hybrid embryo, the Northern white Rhino - two males and two females. Several embryos are now cryopreserved for future transfer into surrogate mothers to carry a pregnancy to term. The goal of simply preserving the subspecies' genes in a new hybrid rhino (in captivity), and whether it would be worth all the effort, is unclear.
If these experiments will be completed successfully, then the scientists will remove the egg from the body of the last two representatives of this subspecies, fertilizes them and try to extract embryonic stem cells from them.
Those embryos are frozen right now and the team says that there is a high chance of establishing pregnancy once the embryos are implanted into the surrogate mother. All conservation efforts to save this species have been foiled by human activities such as poaching, civil war and habitat loss. "I do think that if there's one thing we should learn from this, it's that we shouldn't allow species to get to such a critical state that these high-tech approaches are the only ways of saving its genes". The animals were killed for their horns, a gram of which valued more than gold and served as a status symbol for many.
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