Published: Sat, July 07, 2018
Research | By Derrick Holloway

Northern white rhino could be saved from extinction using embryos

Northern white rhino could be saved from extinction using embryos

An worldwide team of scientists and zoologists from Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic managed to artificially develop an embryo of the northern white rhinos, virtually extinct mammals with no living male existent, a Czech zoo said on Wednesday in a statement. Second, that they can be fertilised using IVF and developed to the "blastocyst" early embryonic stage (ready for transfer to a surrogate female) - and that this can be done as a hybrid of southern and northern rhino.

But once viable eggs were safely preserved, the team then had the challenge of fertilising them with sperm from male northern white rhinos - animals that died several years ago.

In March, the last male northern white rhinoceros (NWR) died, leaving behind just two females of the subspecies.

Northern White Rhinos (NWR) are functionally extinct, as only two females of this species are left on the planet.

"Our results indicate that (assisted reproduction techniques) could be a viable strategy to resuce genes from the iconic, nearly extinct, northern white rhinoceros and may also have broader impact if applied with similar success to other endangered large mammalian species", according to the paper, published this week in the journal Nature Communications. And third, that the resulting embryos can be frozen without damage.

More than 20 egg collections were performed among southern white rhinos from European zoos. Once they have the eggs, they can begin the process of creating northern white rhino embryos for implantation.

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Northern white rhinoceroses are not evolutionary failures.

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.

Ultimately, proponents of the experiment are looking forward to using ART in saving all almost endangered species.

"In the meantime, we will carry on taking the best possible care of Fatu and Najin and the herd of southern whites specifically selected to one day, hopefully, become surrogates for northern white rhinos", Ol Pejeta said in a statement. Even the eggs of elderly or infertile SWR have produced embryos successfully.

In order to create a hybrid embryo, the team of scientists used an adapted technique of artificial insemination of horses.

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.

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Historical distributions of the northern (red) and southern (green) white rhino. They also envisioned to bringing already extinct species back from the dead.

Burgeoning new technology - such as the methods used in this study - may offer promising alternatives for conservation efforts, but technology is not a panacea for wildlife conservation, according to Roth.

Professor Cesare Galli, whose team generated the rhino stem cells, said: 'Pluripotent stem cells have the ability to self-renew indefinitely and to develop into any cell of a living organism'.

Terri Roth, director of the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, however, sees tech-laded reproduction as "highly speculative" and an indication that all other conservation efforts have failed.

"They have formally said they will give us the necessary support", he said.

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