Test-tube rhinos? Experiment aims to save a vanishing species

They hope to eventually implant their embryos into the more common southern white rhino females and then breed any resulting rhinos to try and concentrate their northern white rhino genes.

Over the past two decades, attempts at establishing a sustainable northern white rhino population - including natural breeding programs as well as artificial insemination - have been unsuccessful, according to Jan Stejskal, director of communication and global projects at the Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, who was involved in the study.

Only a year ago, after two years of unsuccessful experiments, biologists managed to find the right combination of such techniques, which led to the successful fusion of gametes and formation of the blastocyst is the first stage of development of the embryo, where it is already possible to return to the womb of the animal. They used sperm from the last northern white rhino males before they died.

The idea that assisted reproductive technology might play a role in species conservation has been around since the 1970s. They are the black-footed ferret, the giant panda and the Asian elephant.

Professor Thomas Hildebrandt, head of reproduction management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany said, "These are the first in-vitro produced rhinoceros embryos ever".

"Everyone believed there was no hope for this sub-species", Hildebrandt said. An ultrasound monitor provided the only guidance for the egg collectors.

Hildebrandt is cognizant of the risks associated with the project, but he remains confident in its value for rhino preservation efforts-particularly if fertilization occurs in conjunction with anti-poaching initiatives. Currently, the researchers are waiting for permission for the egg harvest.

"It would be awful", said Professor Thomas Hildebrandt of the Institute for studies of zoo and wildlife them.

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


Zoologist say that due to the fact that the number of genuine reproduction material of northern white rhinos is limited to four individual donors, this dramatically narrows down the base required to create a viable population for maintaining sufficient genetic diversity.

The northern white rhinoceros needs a miracle.

"We should be working on all fronts", Roth said.

She says this research also has the potential to help other large mammal species. Once Najin and Fatu die, so goes their subspecies.

These researchers are certain that this process could save the northern whiterhino.

That means a southern white rhino would have to serve as a surrogate, and no one knows whether a southern white rhino can carry a northern white rhino baby.

"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.

According to Ol Pejeta, the embryo has a strong chance of surviving to term and thus producing other northern white rhinos. Scientists have succeeded in creating stem cells from embryos rhinoceros the southern white Rhino. The introduced rhino population would be expected to evolve over generations to adapt to their new environment and fill the ecological role left vacant by the northern white rhino. "We want to see these animals revived and put back in their habitat".


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