Revolutionizing Rhinoceros Conservation: IVF Breakthrough Sparks Hope for the Northern White Rhino’s Future

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The Northern White Rhinoceros, on the verge of extinction, faces a precarious future with only two surviving females. In a bid to reverse this grim scenario, scientists have achieved a groundbreaking milestone by successfully utilizing in vitro fertilization (IVF) to implant a viable rhinoceros embryo into a closely related southern white rhino mother. This scientific advancement offers a glimmer of hope for the salvation of the Northern White Rhinoceros species.

Once flourishing in northern Africa, the Northern White Rhinoceros fell victim to relentless hunting and poaching for their valuable keratin horns, driving them to the brink of extinction. Despite recent efforts to preemptively and painlessly remove rhino horns to deter poaching, the Northern White Rhinoceros population dwindled. Since 2009, the species has been confined to captivity at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, with only two surviving females, Najin and Fatu, after the demise of both males in 2014 and 2018, respectively.

The hope for the continuation of the species lies in 30 carefully preserved embryos stored frozen in Europe. The complexities of impregnating rhinos, given their massive size, led researchers to practice IVF on southern white rhinos, a less endangered species. After several attempts, success came with a rhino named Curra, demonstrating the viability of the technique. Tragically, Curra succumbed to poisoning by Clostridia bacteria during the embryo’s development, a setback that did not diminish the success of the rhino IVF.

With proven success, the next step involves attempting IVF with the northern white rhino embryos, which carry the genetic legacy of Fatu and the deceased males. However, due to health constraints, Najin and Fatu cannot carry the embryos, necessitating the selection of another southern white rhino surrogate. Despite the challenges, scientists are optimistic that the biological similarities between the species will mitigate potential issues.

To ensure a genuine fresh start for the Northern White Rhinoceros species, the breeding plan must incorporate new genetics. Researchers aim to create sperm and egg cells from stem cells, promoting genetic diversity. Samuel Mutisya, the head of research and species conservation at Ol Pejeta, emphasizes the commitment to do everything possible to nurture, protect, and recover the species using innovative and modern technologies.

Photo: Lengai101 via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY 3.0 DEED

With only two remaining females of the Northern White Rhinoceros, the quest for species preservation relies on innovative approaches and cutting-edge technology.

Source: mymodernmet


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