Hybrid Test Tube ‘Baby’ Rhinos Are Now Being Grown In The Lab

06 July, 2018, 21:15 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • A northern white female rhinoceros named Najin at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2015

Researchers led by Dr Thomas Hildebrandt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research have created hybrid rhinoceros embryos and derived stem cells from these using in vitro fertilisation, or IVF.

Over the past two decades, attempts at establishing a sustainable northern white rhino population - including natural breeding programs as well as artificial insemination - have been unsuccessful, according to Jan Stejskal, director of communication and global projects at the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, who was involved in the study. To date, the embryos are showing all vital signs of the healthy embryonic stem cells.

The idea that assisted reproductive technology might play a role in species conservation has been around since the 1970s.

Northern White Rhinos are the most endangered mammals on earth.

For one, the creation of hybrid northern and southern white rhinos could lead to almost pure northern specimen after generations of inbreeding that would dilute southern genes.

Najin (L) and Fatu are the only two northern white rhino known to be alive today - both are infertile females.

An alternative strategy to resurrection would be to secure a safe habitat in the former northern white rhino's range of central East Africa, populate it with southern white rhino and let natural selection run its course. "In fact, half of the genetic information of this hybrid embryo comes from the white northern rhinoceros, which is an fantastic success", Rabas was quoted as saying. If they thrive, they will be implanted to surrogate rhino mothers that could, later on, give birth to a rhino calf closely related to Sudan.

By creating embryo stem cell lines from southern white rhinos, scientists demonstrated what Roth calls "proof of concept", meaning that if you could achieve this outcome with a southern white rhino, you could ostensibly achieve a similar outcome in the northern white rhino. "These techniques have the potential to help the other endangered rhino species, including the Sumatran rhino and the Indian rhino and and other large mammals such as the Gaur, a large Asian cow that is also at risk of extinction". They also envisioned to bringing already extinct species back from the dead.

Professor Cesare Galli, whose team generated the rhino stem cells, said: 'Pluripotent stem cells have the ability to self-renew indefinitely and to develop into any cell of a living organism'.

"The team is going to harvest additional oocytes (immature eggs) from the last two female northern white rhinos who are now in Kenya", she says. They predict, after developing the proper technique, it will be possible to transfer the embryos to female southern white rhinoceroses in the coming years.

The device developed by Professor Hildebrandt, who is also an Honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne and lead author of the paper, is now awaiting patent approval and could also be used to collect eggs from other large mammals.

"These are the first in vitro produced rhinoceros embryos ever".

These hybrid embryos developed into blastocysts - the stage of development at which the researchers could implant them into a female.

Researchers published their initial results in the journal of Nature Communications.

Frozen samples of sperm from the last male species of the northern white rhino in the world, named Sudan who died in March this year in Kenya at old age, were used to produce the embryo.

If successful, this could see a calf born within three years in Kenya - and even more at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire.

An worldwide team of researchers successfully managed to adapt reproduction techniques used in horses to the special circumstances of rhino species, opening up the potential to bring back NWR from the brink of extinction.

"Our results are solid, reproducible and very promising".



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