Saving Rhinos with Science: The Art of Growing Them in a Lab
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Saving Rhinos with Science: The Art of Growing Them in a Lab

The world’s attention is riveted on the plight of the northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum), a species on the precipice of functional extinction. 

The tragic loss of the last male in 2018 and the dwindling population of only two surviving females have pushed conservationists into overdrive.

Across the globe, a concerted and innovative effort is underway to rescue this iconic African species from the brink.

At the forefront of this battle stands BioRescue, an international research consortium established in 2019. 

Under the guidance of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo & Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany, BioRescue is spearheading a multifaceted approach to revive the dwindling northern white rhino population.

One bold avenue involves the meticulous collection of mature eggs, scientifically referred to as oocytes, from the remaining female rhinos in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy. 

These invaluable eggs are then delicately fertilized using preserved sperm from deceased northern white males.

However, a new challenge arises – the surviving females, Najin and Fatu, are unable to carry pregnancies. BioRescue has devised a strategy to transfer the resulting embryos into surrogate mothers. 

The most suitable candidates for this critical role are southern white rhinos, sharing a close genetic kinship with their northern counterparts.

A ray of hope shines as two wild southern white rhinos emerge as potential surrogate mothers, kindling optimism within the conservation community. 

This development marks a significant step toward the ultimate goal of generating viable offspring and orchestrating a remarkable comeback for the northern white rhino.

While BioRescue’s efforts have produced promising strides, the road ahead is fraught with challenges. 

The intricate procedure of embryo transplantation followed by successful pregnancies remains a formidable hurdle. Thus, the importance of concurrent conservation initiatives cannot be overstated, ensuring a safety net for the species’ survival.

Parallel to BioRescue’s endeavors, the Rhino Fertility Project at the University of Oxford adopts a distinct approach. 

Instead of harvesting mature eggs, this project endeavors to cultivate follicles – specialized structures that house immature eggs. 

This innovative technique circumvents the natural degradation of follicles and seeks to nurture a substantial pool of eggs within a controlled laboratory setting.

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Stem Cell Breakthroughs and Conservation Efforts for White Rhino

The world’s attention is riveted on the plight of the northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum), a species on the precipice of functional extinction.

Another avenue of hope lies in the realm of stem cell technologies. 

The Gamete Research Centre at the University of Antwerp is pioneering the cultivation of eggs outside the rhinos’ bodies using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). 

These versatile immature cells, derived from mature cells, possess the potential to differentiate into eggs. 

This groundbreaking method, already successful in mice, offers a tantalizing solution to the scarcity of available oocytes.

Despite the formidable challenges, the spirit of optimism among researchers burns brightly. 

Stored genetic material from northern white rhinos hints at a reservoir of diversity essential for establishing a thriving population. 

The very notion of creating eggs from stem cells, once relegated to the realm of science fiction, now stands as a testament to human ingenuity and determination to rescue a species teetering on the edge.

Yet, the urgency to save the northern white rhino transcends species preservation alone. 

The conservation efforts underscore the intricate tapestry of ecosystems and the far-reaching consequences of losing a keystone species. 

The northern white rhino assumes the role of a flagship species, a rallying emblem for broader conservation endeavors, and a poignant reminder of the imperative to safeguard biodiversity for generations to come.

In a world grappling with environmental challenges, the innovative approaches championed by BioRescue, the Rhino Fertility Project, and the Gamete Research Centre offer a glimmer of optimism. 

These cutting-edge strategies symbolize the capacity of human innovation to steer a species back from the brink, forging a path toward a future where no species is beyond redemption.

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Source: The Conversation

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