Could IVF really save the world's most endangered animal?

08 July, 2018, 02:17 | Author: Dwayne Harmon
  • A northern white female rhinoceros named Najin at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2015

The researchers hope it will enable them to pluck the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction.

Sudan, the northern white rhino's last male - once called the "most eligible bachelor in the world" by the dating app Tinder - died in March. The pair is both female and both are infertile.

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 worldwide projects at the Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, who was involved in the study. Both also live in Olpajeta - Sudan's daughter, Najin, and granddaughter, Fatu.

An global 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.

The NWR can only reproduce in the zoos very slowly.

An global team of scientists has successfully created hybrid in vitro embryos, combining the almost extinct northern white rhinos and its relative species, the southern white rhinos.

"To me if we have a chance to save them I do not understand why we should not - I do not want to witness northern white rhinos disappear in front of our eyes just because we did not care".

The resulting hybrid embryos started to develop in a lab dish.

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Cesare Galli, whose Italy-based company Avantea has lengthy experience with the artificial reproduction of horses, said recent advances in stem cell technology could help the rhino preservation effort.

These achievements raise the possibility that a hybrid rhino, which preserves numerous genes of the northern white rhino, could be bred in future. San Diego Zoo is now evaluating six surrogacy candidates, and has already successfully artificially inseminated one with southern white rhino sperm.

Researchers hope they could build on their recent breakthrough and create pure white rhino embryos. A special device was developed to enable the operators to extract oocytes (unfertilised eggs) from the ovaries of anaesthetised female southern white rhino from a number of European zoos.

Now scientists face another challenge of getting female eggs from the last two females living in Kenya in order to create a clean embryo. "Using these gadgets and techniques, Hildebrandt and his colleagues recovered the egg of the southern white rhinos from the bodies of several female" donors", and introduce them to the nuclei of the sperm cells, treating them with powerful, but short current pulses. Hildebrandt said that the induction of sperm and eggs from northern white rhino's blood or skin cells could take a decade. Already though, using some rhino embryos, the team has established that they can make an embryonic stem cell line, a step that's useful in that process.

It will then be planted into surrogate mothers, who are under heavy guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the researchers noted in a statement. With his death, the survival of the subspecies, which has been driven to near-extinction by poaching in Central Africa, seemed bleak.

Many scientists see these technologies as a valuable tool in the repopulation of disappearing species. The method is also used in human reproductive medicine. "However, we are confident that we can get the eggs", he added.

"We didn't have many options so we had to be realistic."

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