Quantcast

With Only 3 Northern White Rhinos Left in the World, Scientists Are Turning to Stem Cells to Save the Species

Animals

The world's last three northern white rhinos, which all reside at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, are unable to breed because they are directly related to each other.

Northern white rhino. Photo credit: Erico Hiller, GoFundMe

Scientists hoping to save the critically endangered species, are turning to stem cells to aid reproduction. They plan to make stem cells out of adult rhino skin cells through a process called iPS, induced pluripotent stem cells. Lab-grown stem cells of this kind are pluripotent, meaning they can make any type of cell in the body. Scientists plan on creating northern white rhino sperm and egg cells with this method.

Those cells can then be combined to form embryos, a NowThis video reported. The formed embryos will be placed in a surrogate female northern white rhino, who will hopefully carry them to term. Scientists are not sure if this process will work, but its one of the last chances the northern white rhino has of avoiding extinction.

The use of the pluripotent cells will allow for the development of genetic diversity within the species, which is needed to reproduce in the future. DNA of a dozen northern white rhinos, which has been preserved in genetic banks in Berlin and San Diego, will be used in this project, according to the projects GoFundMe page.

The northern white rhino originally ranged over parts of northwestern Uganda, eastern Central African Republic, southern South Sudan and northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Poachers reduced their population from 500 to 15 during the 1970s and 1980s.

From the 1990s through mid-2003, the northern white rhinos' population recovered, but not to original levels. By mid-2003 there were 32 animals in the wild. The population was then once again reduced by poaching until there were only 5 to 10 animals left in the world.

White rhinos are especially vulnerable to poaching because they are relatively unaggressive, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The last three northern white rhinos are watched 24/7 by guards. This rhino species cannot be found in any zoos.

As of 2011, the species is considered probably extinct. There have been no sightings of wild northern white rhinos since 2006.

Rhinos were hunted by poachers for their horns, which are used for many purposes. Powdered horn is used in traditional Asian medicine for illnesses from hangovers to cancer, WWF said. Horns are also in demand simply as a symbol of wealth in societies such as Vietnam. One kilo of rhino horn sells for $60,000 on the black market, according to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Northern white rhino. Photo credit: Khalil Baalbaki, ZOO Dvur Kralove

Southern white rhinos, the only other species of white rhinos, has rebounded significantly. WWF reports their population is 20,000 or more.

Watch this NowThis video for more information on the conversation efforts for the northern white rhinos:

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

5 Species Bouncing Back From the Brink of Extinction

Tigers Declared Extinct in Cambodia

Eastern Monarch Butterflies at Risk of Extinction

Huge News for Elephants: U.S. Bans Ivory Trade

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg speaks during her protest action for more climate protection with a reporter. Steffen Trumpf / picture alliance / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

It's been 30 years since Bill McKibben rang the warning bells about the threat of man-made climate change — first in a piece in The New Yorker, and then in his book, The End of Nature.

Read More Show Less
At the International Motor Show (IAA), climate protestors are calling for a change in transportation politics. © Kevin McElvaney / Greenpeace

Thousands of protestors marched in front of Frankfurt's International Motor Show (IAA) on Saturday to show their disgust with the auto industry's role in the climate crisis. The protestors demanded an end to combustion engines and a shift to more environmentally friendly emissions-free vehicles, as Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Setting and testing the line protections for Siemens SF6 gas insulated switchgear in 2007. Xaf / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Electricity from renewable sources is growing exponentially as the technology allows for cheaper and more efficient energy generation, but there is a dark side that has the industry polluting the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Elizabeth Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Sweet and regular potatoes are both tuberous root vegetables, but they differ in appearance and taste.

They come from separate plant families, offer different nutrients, and affect your blood sugar differently.

Read More Show Less
Scientists in Saskatchewan found that consuming small amounts of neonicotinoids led white-crowned sparrows to lose significant amounts of weight and delay migration, threatening their ability to reproduce. Jen Goellnitz / Flickr

By Julia Conley

In addition to devastating effects on bee populations and the pollination needed to feed humans and other species, widely-used pesticides chemically related to nicotine may be deadly to birds and linked to some species' declines, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is set to unveil a package of measures on Friday, Sept. 20, to ensure that the country cuts its greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030, compared with the 1990 levels.

Read More Show Less
Assorted plastic bottles. mali maeder / Pexels

California ended its 2019 legislative session Saturday without passing two bills that would have led the nation in tackling plastic pollution, The Mercury News reported.

Read More Show Less
People carry children on a flooded street in Almoradi, Spain on Sept. 13. JOSE JORDAN / AFP / Getty Images

Record rainfall and flooding in southeastern Spain killed six people as of Saturday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less