ibusinesslines.com November 21, 2018

Near-extinct northern white rhino could be saved with embryo breakthrough

07 July 2018, 06:47 | Justin Tyler

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Scientists have raised hopes that the near-extinct northern white rhinos can be saved by the hybrid embryos from the frozen sperm of dead males.

"Our goal is that we have, in three years, the first northern white rhino calf born", said Thomas Hildebrandt, of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin.

Scientists developed a hybrid embryo by combining the sperm of the northern white rhino and the egg of the southern white rhino, which population is now estimated at around 21,000 individuals, according to the zoo statement. The first rhino embryos which have been created in a test tube can help save the rhinos by high-tech assisted reproduction.

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 two animals - named Najin and her daugther Fatu - live in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and belong to the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic. Dr. Roth adds that it is necessary to learn from the northern white rhinos' story to ensure that a similar plight does not befall other endangered species.

More than 20 egg collections were performed among southern white rhinos from European zoos.

This is why they have the ambitious plan to extract the eggs from living NWR females first and then breed the hybrid white rhinos. According to the researchers, in order to bring back northern white rhino in the real world, they will need eggs as well as sperm from it.

Over the decades, the population of northern white rhino kept declining due to extreme poaching.

The researchers froze their hybrid rhinoceros embryos so they can try implanting them into a female SWR surrogate using in vitro fertilization (IVF) at some point in the future. These experiments gave hope that biologists will be able to turn such cells into full-fledged embryos of extinct animals.

It will then be planted into surrogate mothers, who are under heavy guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the researchers noted in a statement.

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. This final step toward the birth of a calf containing northern white rhino DNA is no small step, as artificial insemination in rhino has rarely been attempted.

But there's still a lot of work to be done before we see a newborn white rhino. They predict, after developing the proper technique, it will be possible to transfer the embryos to female southern white rhinoceroses in the coming years.

The study titled, "Embryos and embryonic stem cells from the white rhinoceros", was published July 4 in the journal Nature Communications.

Historical distributions of the northern (red) and southern (green) white rhino.

Because of the many biological and technological uncertainties that dot the leap from an embryo to a healthy rhino baby, scientists are looking into a years-long process and mulling different possibilities.

"We are quite confident with the technology we have developed", he said during a telephone conference with reporters detailing the research.

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'.

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