News Could IVF bring white rhinos back from the edge of extinction?



An worldwide team of researchers successfully managed to adapt reproduction techniques used in horses to the special circumstances of rhino species, opening up the potential to bring back NWR from the brink of extinction.

In 2008, Dr Thomas Hildebrandt and his team at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research collected semen from the last remaining northern white rhino males, in hopes of reviving the species in the future.

The researchers will test their approach using southern rhinos as surrogates, but a complicated procedure (the females need to be anaesthetized for two hours) and a limited amount of northern sperm (just four dead males) doesn't give the scientists many chances.

The next step will be to transfer three of the embryos that have been frozen to the uterus of surrogate southern white rhino for gestation and birth.

The eggs were then fertilized with frozen northern white rhino sperm.

It was the eggs that were more hard to collect. Professor Renfree says the key to the project was new technology developed by Professor Thomas Hildebrandt, who's based at the Leibniz-Institut in Berlin, that for the first time allowed collection of eggs from the ovaries of rhinoceroses. They live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya under constant armed guard.

Some experts have warned it could already be too late, however.

Science has stepped in with a possible lifeline for the northern white rhino (NWR) and other critically endangered large mammals, according to new research published in Nature Communications.

"An global team of scientists has now successfully created hybrid embryos from Southern White Rhino (SWR) eggs and Northern White Rhino sperm using assisted reproduction techniques (ART)", the researchers from Avantea, a laboratory of advanced technologies for biotechnology research and animal reproduction, noted in a statement.

For one, the creation of hybrid northern and southern white rhinos could lead to almost pure northern specimen after generations of inbreeding that would dilute southern genes.

They ended up with a handful of embryos, some of which could potentially be implanted into surrogate rhino mothers. We are very thankful for all donations received from private people supporting our race against time.

Sudan, the last white male northern rhino in the world, died aged 45 at Ol Pejeta.

Unless the IVF techniques work out, these species are doomed to die.

The NWR can only reproduce in the zoos very slowly.

But there's still a lot of work to be done before we see a newborn white rhino.

Hildebrandt insisted the effort is worthwhile.

Could this bring back the northern white rhino?

They failed because rhino horns, gram for gram, are more valuable than gold - fetching high prices as status symbols or for their medicinal powders.

Northern white rhinos were once abundant across Central and East Africa, but conflicts and poaching wiped them from their natural habitat. 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 have the tools in our hands to correct that".

"What we've done is very similar to what's done to couples with fertility problems", Galli said. The team is hoping that within a decade, scientists will be able to produce new rhino eggs from frozen skin cells. Jan Stejskal, of the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, told the outlet he hopes his colleagues can collect the precious cells by the end of the year. They are still waiting for permission from Kenyan authorities to perform the delicate procedure of removing egg cells from Najin and Fatu.

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