Saving the Northern White Rhino - With Hybrids?


So, they developed assisted reproductive technologies, which helped with the creation of two hybrid white rhino embryos consisting of a genetic mix of the NWR and its closely related cousin, the Southern White Rhino (SWR), the Washington Post reported.

They successfully implanted an embryo of a rhino into this female rhino, named Hope, at the Berlin Zoo. Then they put them in test tubes and fertilized the eggs using frozen sperm collected from now-dead Northern White Rhino males.

The first rhinoceros embryo created in vitro can help to save the subspecies, the Northern white Rhino from the brink of extinction.

Sudan, the northern white rhino's last male - once called the "most eligible bachelor in the world" by the dating app Tinder - died in March.

The two surviving members of the northern white species - a mother and daughter called Najin and Fatu who live in Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy - can not bear offspring, which is why a southern white surrogate is needed.

"Our results indicate that ART (assisted reproduction techniques) could be a viable strategy to rescue genes from the iconic, nearly extinct, northern white rhinoceros", the team wrote in the journal Nature Communications. As there were very few frozen NWR eggs exist, the scientists started to create hybrid embryos and see how the technique works.

Zoologist say that due to the fact that the number of genuine reproduction material of northern white rhinos is limited to four individual donors, this dramatically narrows down the base required to create a viable population for maintaining sufficient genetic diversity. "Now we are well prepared to go to Kenya and collect oocytes from the last two NWR females in order to produce pure NWR blastocysts where both eggs and sperm are from NWR", Hildebrandt comments. But the same method could soon be used with eggs taken from the surviving northern rhinos in captivity in Africa.

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Could this bring back the northern white rhino?

For example, in 2011 scientists from the SCRIPPS Institute in La JOLLA (USA) created the first stem cells of the extinct Northern white rhinos and endangered species of baboons-drylaw using samples of their frozen tissues. The good news, Hildebrandt tells the New York Times' Yin, is that researchers have a genetically diverse collection of cells to draw from and have already created 12 of these "reprogrammed" cells (albeit no egg or sperm cells).

"To me if we have a chance to save them I do not understand why we should not - I do not want to witness northern white rhinos disappear in front of our eyes just because we did not care". They predict, after developing the proper technique, it will be possible to transfer the embryos to female southern white rhinoceroses in the coming years. "In fact, half of the genetic information of this hybrid embryo comes from the white northern rhinoceros, which is an unbelievable success", Rabas was quoted as saying.

There have been previous attempts by conservation scientists to save the rhino species.

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

ART was created by a team led by Cesare Galli, a veterinarian, and embryologist working at Avantea, a biotechnology laboratory in Italy.

"They have formally said they will give us the necessary support", he said.