Northern white rhino 'could be saved from extinction'

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Could Northern White Rhino Be Saved From Extinction?

Given the dwindling number of available northern white rhino female eggs (oocytes), researchers fertilised eggs from a closely related subspecies, the southern white rhinoceros (SWR).

Scientists have for the first time created hybrid embryos with DNA from the nearly-extinct northern white rhinoceros, an advance that could ultimately lead to the first resurrection of a mega-mammal. They also plan to harvest eggs from the two remaining NWR females.

Sudan, the last male northern White rhino, died due to age-related illnesses but the continued dedication from conservationists, the species renaissance may become a reality. Females were transported from the zoo to Kenya, where they now live under round the clock protection.

Jan Stejskal, a spokesman for Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, which has a long history of rhino conservation, said scientists hope to travel to Kenya before the end of the year.

Najin (right) and Fatu, the only two remaining female northern white rhinoceroses, graze at the ol-Pejeta conservancy in Nanyuki, north of capital Nairobi, in March.

The technique was actually adopted from methods already used routinely for cattle and horses.

The NWR can only reproduce in the zoos very slowly.

While any resulting baby rhinos would be hybrids - half northern and half southern white rhino - the experiment is a first step to re-creating an extinct species in the lab, the researchers report in the journal Nature Communications.

Several embryos have been frozen for future implantation into the wombs of surrogate mothers.

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"Achieving the latter requires navigating an untrodden path fraught with obstacles, and it remains unlikely that a viable population of northern white rhinos will be restored".

Researchers hope they could build on their recent breakthrough and create pure white rhino embryos. To date, the embryos are showing all vital signs of the healthy embryonic stem cells. The first rhino embryos which have been created in a test tube can help save the rhinos by high-tech assisted reproduction. "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.

Harvesting eggs from the two living northern white rhino (NWR) females is also a possibility.

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

Perhaps no species on Earth is closer to extinction as the northern white rhinoceros.

Many scientists see these technologies as a valuable tool in the repopulation of disappearing species.

Yet the use of assisted reproduction for wildlife conservation is still rare, according to a paper co-authored by Roth, having been met with a lot of resistance from within the animal conservation community.

Furthermore, even if a few calves are born, "there will still be a lot of work to do in getting those offspring to propagate, and given the limited gene pool, inbreeding depression will be a very real threat", she said.

The combination of stem cell research with newly developed artificial insemination technology provides scientists with a way to save critically endangered mammalian species.

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