Could IVF really save the world's most endangered animal?
Could IVF really save the world's most endangered animal?
Just one of two remaininn—but hopefully not for long
07 July, 2018, 06:49
The two surviving members of the northern white species - a mother and daughter called Najin and Fatu who live in Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy - can not bear offspring, which is why a southern white surrogate is needed. They live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya under constant armed guard.
Efforts have been made in the past to create a sustainable northern white rhino population, through both natural breeding programmes and artificial insemination, but were unsuccessful.
Two of the resulting hybrid embryos, who started their lives in lab dishes, have been frozen for later implementation, although such a transfer procedure is yet to be developed for rhinos.
The team managed to produce hybrid embryos from Southern White Rhino eggs and Northern White Rhino sperm.
There is time pressure, they pointed out, with only two animals still around to socialise the babies in the mysterious ways of northern white rhinos. This would enlarge the founding genetic diversity of the future NWR population substantially. "In a second step these germ cells will then be transformed into eggs and sperm", explain Dr Sebastian Diecke, stem cell expert at the Max Delbrueck Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) in Berlin, Germany, and Prof Katsuhiko Hayashi, stem cell expert at the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, Kyushu University, Japan. They are now being frozen and later will be implanted into a surrogate mother that will give birth to a hybrid offspring.
The team of scientists has a goal to have the first NWR calf in the next three years.
But now, scientists have developed new assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) which could provide the beleaguered species with a lifeline.
Supporters believe the work could be used to help other endangered species, while some conservationists believe the focus should be on other critically endangered species, including the Javan and Sumatran rhinos, that have suffered because of poaching and human encroachment on habitats.
"Rhinos are very large (2,000 kg on average), so they have a reproductive tract that is very hard to access", she said. 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. The Washington Post's Ben Guarino reports that to produce the hybrid embryos, scientists retrieved the southern females' eggs with a 60-inch-long instrument that enables the collection of ovarian tissue. That process requires full anesthesia and poses a risk to the rhino.
"We are highly afraid something unexpected would happen, that would be a nightmare". "We should come at it with everything we've got", Roth said.
IVF techniques have not been a big success. They are the black-footed ferret, the giant panda and the Asian elephant.
The southern white rhino is still quite numerous, with an estimated 21,000 of the animals living in South Africa today. The rhinos failed, as biologist and study author Thomas B. Hildebrandt told reporters Tuesday, because their hides were not bulletproof. According to him, the gradual disappearance occurred due to the fact that grams of the horns of these rhinos were worth more than gold and hunters killed the animals one by one.
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