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Scientists Fertilize Eggs From Last Northern White Rhinos

Animals
Scientists Fertilize Eggs From Last Northern White Rhinos
Scientists have successfully fertilized eggs taken from two female northern white rhinos, a year after the last remaining male died. DW

Seven eggs from the world's last northern white rhinoceroces have been successfully fertilized in a lab, scientists announced on Monday.


Ten eggs were extracted from two females, Najin and Fatu, last week in Kenya, but only seven of them were fit to be artificially inseminated.

"We expect some of them will develop into an embryo," Cesare Galli, a founder of the Italian assisted-breeding company Avantea.

The team used frozen sperm that had been harvested from two male northern white rhinos before they died.

"This is the next critical step in hopefully creating viable embryos that can be frozen and then later on transferred to southern white rhino surrogate mothers," the scientists said in a statement.

Veterinarians and wildlife experts are hoping to use a surrogate mother rhino, as Najin and Fatu are unable to carry a pregnancy.

Sudan, the last northern white rhino, was unable to stand up in the end. He was treated for age-related complications that led to degenerative changes in muscles and bones combined with extensive skin wounds. Veterinary experts took the decision to euthanize the animal. "At the age of 45, Sudan was a very old man, well over 100 years old in human equivalent years," said the charity Helping Rhinos.

Saving the Species

Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhinoceros, was euthanized last year after age-related health issues began to worsen.

The 45-year-old rhino shot to fame in 2017 when he was listed as "The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World" on the dating app Tinder, in a fundraising effort.

He left behind his daughter Najin and his granddaughter Fatu as the last remaining members of their species.

The team of scientists involved in trying to save the species is being led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and is being funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research.

The ultimate goal is to create a herd of at least five northern white rhinos that could be released in their natural habitat in Africa, although that process could take decades.

Other species of rhino, including the southern white rhino and the black rhino, are frequently targeted by poachers who kill the animals for their horns to sell in illegal markets in Asia.

In the 1970s, Kenya was home to around 20,000 rhinos, but decades of poaching have reduced the number to an estimated 650.

This white rhino subspecies made headlines last year following the death of Sudan, the last known male of his kind, making the species functionally extinct. Some scientists are cautiously optimistic that it could be brought back with the help of IVF technology.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DW.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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