Quantcast

Scientists Grow First Test-Tube Rhino Embryo in Bid to Save Northern White Rhinos from Extinction

Popular
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in 2010. Lengai 101 / Michael Dalton-Smith / CC BY 3.0

When the world's last remaining male northern white rhino (NWR) died in March, it seemed like the end of the line for the most endangered mammal on the planet.

But, in a bid to save the subspecies from extinction, scientists announced Wednesday they had created embryos in the lab containing northern white rhino DNA, AFP reported.


In a paper published in Nature Communications, researchers explained that they had created embryos by injecting southern white rhino eggs with northern white rhino sperm. The embryos are the first ever rhino embryos produced in a test tube, according to AFP.

"Our goal is to have in three years the first NWR calf born," study author and head of reproduction management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin Thomas Hildebrandt told AFP.

To do this, scientists hope to extract eggs from the last two female northern white rhinos living, Najin and Fatu, who are the daughter and granddaughter of Sudan, the male NWR who died in March. They then hope to implant the eggs in female southern white rhinos who will act as surrogate mothers. The babies would then grow up with Najin and Fatu to be properly socialized.

"We now see clearly a moral obligation not only to help the NWR to somehow survive in captivity, but later even help them get back to their original range and be wild again," study author Jan Stejskal, who works at the Safari Park Dvů r Králové in the Czech Republic, told The Guardian.

There are a few obstacles on the road to this goal. First, the research team needs to obtain permission from the Kenyan park where Najin and Fatu live to extract eggs from the two females. The procedure involves anesthesia and is not without risks.

"We are highly afraid that something unexpected may happen during this procedure which is related to the heart or something else – that would be a nightmare," Hildebrandt told The Guardian.

Then they have to account for the lack of genetic diversity necessary to re-establish a viable population of northern white rhinos. To this end, researchers are working on making sperm and eggs from skin cells of 12 different, unrelated northern white rhinos using stem cell technology.

Terri Roth and William Swanson of the Cincinnati Zoo, who were not involved in the research, wrote a response casting doubt on its likely success.

"Impressive results in a Petri dish don't easily translate into a herd of healthy offspring," they said, according to The Guardian.

But the study authors expressed hope and thought their work could be a model for saving other endangered species.

"Our results indicate that [assisted reproduction technologies] could be a viable strategy to rescue genes from the iconic, almost extinct, northern white rhinoceros and may also have broader impact if applied with similar success to other endangered large mammalian species," they wrote in the abstract.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Scanning electron micrograph of Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague, on proventricular spines of a Xenopsylla cheopis flea. NIAID / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A middle-aged married couple in China was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a highly infectious disease similar to bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the middle ages, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Milk made from almonds, oats and coconut are among the healthiest alternatives to cow's milk. triocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.

Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Greta Thunberg stands aboard the catamaran La Vagabonde as she sets sail to Europe in Hampton, Virginia, on Nov. 13. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist whose weekly school strikes have spurred global demonstrations, has cut short her tour of the Americas and set sail for Europe to attend COP25 in Madrid next month, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
The Lake Delhi Dam in Iowa failed in 2010. VCU Capital News Service / Josh deBerge / FEMA

At least 1,688 dams across the U.S. are in such a hazardous condition that, if they fail, could force life-threatening floods on nearby homes, businesses, infrastructure or entire communities, according to an in-depth analysis of public records conducted by the the Associated Press.

Read More Show Less

By Sabrina Kessler

Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Alex Robinson

Leah Garcés used to hate poultry farmers.

The animal rights activist, who opposes factory farming, had an adversarial relationship with chicken farmers until around five years ago, when she sat down to listen to one. She met a poultry farmer called Craig Watts in rural North Carolina and learned that the problems stemming from factory farming extended beyond animal cruelty.

Read More Show Less
People navigate snow-covered sidewalks in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Nov. 11 in Chicago. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Temperatures plunged rapidly across the U.S. this week and around 70 percent of the population is expected to experience temperatures around freezing Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
A general view of the flooded St. Mark's Square after an exceptional overnight "Alta Acqua" high tide water level, on Nov. 13 in Venice. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP / Getty Images

Two people have died as Venice has been inundated by the worst flooding it has seen in more than 50 years, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less