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In Vitro Fertilization Breakthrough Offers Hope for Northern White Rhinos on the Brink of Extinction

Scientists have achieved a major breakthrough in conservation efforts to save the northern white rhinoceros from extinction through successful embryo transfer in a southern white rhinoceros named Curra. While this marks a significant step forward, challenges and setbacks persist, with the recent death of Curra after a 70-day pregnancy due to a bacterial infection. However, researchers remain optimistic about the potential for this technique to save the northern white rhino population.

A journey to save northern white rhinos through in vitro fertilization
Northern White Rhinos

The northern white rhino population has been decimated by poachers, leaving only two individuals, Najin and Fatu, both residing in Kenya at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The endangered species faced a drastic decline from around 500 to 15 in the 1970s and 1980s. The global initiative, BioRescue, aims to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques to revive the population, with 30 preserved northern white rhino embryos stored in Italy and Germany.

Success and Setback

In a press conference in Berlin, BioRescue researchers announced the successful impregnation of Curra in September 2023, proving the viability of embryo transfer in rhinos. However, the pregnancy was not carried to term, as Curra succumbed to a bacterial infection in November. Despite this setback, the researchers view the successful impregnation as a positive sign for future attempts.

Future Plans

Researchers are optimistic about transferring a northern white rhino embryo into a southern white rhino surrogate as early as June 2024. The 16-month gestation period of northern white rhinos poses a time-sensitive challenge, as researchers aim to integrate the newborn with Najin and Fatu to ensure it identifies as a northern white rhino. The ultimate goal is to create a sustainable population, necessitating gene editing for genetic diversity.

Challenges and Solutions

The project faced challenges, including two failed implantations and one ectopic pregnancy, spanning five years of work to progress from embryo to fetus. Despite these difficulties, researchers remain confident about the feasibility of impregnating a southern white rhino with a northern white rhino embryo. The success of this endeavor relies on overcoming logistical challenges and ensuring the surrogate mother’s optimal health.

Global Conservation Effort

The initiative, supported by public and private donors, including the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, involves collaboration with various institutions and researchers worldwide. The project’s high cost underscores the global commitment to saving the northern white rhino from extinction.

Stem Cell Reprogramming and Gene Pool Expansion

To expand the gene pool, researchers plan to utilize stem cell reprogramming techniques with skin cells extracted from preserved tissue samples stored in zoos. This innovative approach aims to create embryos using lab-engineered sex cells combined with natural sperm and eggs, further diversifying the genetic makeup of the northern white rhino population.

The world’s first successful IVF rhino pregnancy represents a significant step forward in the ambitious endeavor to rescue the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction. While challenges persist, the global collaborative effort, combined with innovative techniques, provides hope for the survival and revitalization of this critically endangered species. The responsibility to save these rhinos is emphasized by the urgency of the situation and the potential for success within reach.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Ans: The breakthrough in in vitro fertilization is crucial for saving the near-extinct northern white rhinos, offering hope through advanced reproductive techniques.

Ans: Only two northern white rhinos remain, Najin and Fatu, as poaching drastically reduced their population from around 500 to 15 in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ans: The BioRescue project is an international initiative focused on using in vitro fertilization to revive the northern white rhino population, with 30 preserved embryos stored.

Ans: Researchers encountered challenges such as failed implantations and pregnancy complications, but the successful impregnation of a southern white rhino shows promise

Ans: Researchers aim to transfer an embryo by June 2024, with a 16-month gestation period. The goal is to integrate the newborn with existing rhinos for a sustainable population.

Ans: Gene editing is planned to ensure genetic diversity. Stem cell reprogramming from skin cells aims to expand the gene pool, creating embryos for a more resilient population.

Ans: The initiative involves collaboration with institutions worldwide, supported by public and private donors, showcasing a global commitment to rhino conservation.

Ans: Individuals can support conservation initiatives through donations to organizations like BioRescue or participating in awareness campaigns to raise funds for rhino protection.

Ans: The success of this effort can potentially serve as a model for saving other rhino species facing extinction, contributing to global conservation and biodiversity.

Ans: With only two remaining individuals, urgent action is needed to prevent the extinction of the northern white rhinos. The responsibility lies in our ability to leverage scientific advancements to protect endangered species.

Image by byrdyak on Freepik

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In Vitro Fertilization Breakthrough Offers Hope for Northern White Rhinos on the Brink of Extinction
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