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

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When the world's last northern white rhinoceros male died in March (above), researchers scrambled to save the species-which had only two females left.

Earlier this year, the rather sad news was announced that the last male northern white rhino had died.

"Within three years we hope to have the first (northern white) rhino calf born", said Thomas Hildebrandt of Germany's Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, who co-led the work.

'With small chance of healthy new calves, and limited place in their historic range to go, Save the Rhino believes that the best outcome will be to put our efforts and funding - including research into IVF - into saving the species which do still have a chance, ' it said on its website.

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

The amount of semen preserved from northern white rhinos in frozen stocks is from only three bulls, meaning there is not a lot of genetic diversity.

"Achieving the latter requires navigating an untrodden path fraught with obstacles, and it remains unlikely that a viable population of northern white rhinos will be restored".

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

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. They will allow us to create "clean" the embryos of these animals.

The ultimate goal, they say, is to breed a pure northern white rhino population. That leaves only two females, Najin and Fatu, to represent the subspecies. Now scientists have created embryos of hybrid Northern/Southern white rhinos. The Washington Post's Ben Guarino reports that to produce the hybrid embryos, scientists retrieved the southern females' eggs with a 60-inch-long instrument that enables the collection of ovarian tissue. They are now being frozen and later will be implanted into a surrogate mother that will give birth to a hybrid offspring. However, the feature and danger of such a fertilization is that female southern rhinos, a biomaterial that remains - from the Northern rhinos.

While this kind of assisted reproduction is used for other large mammals, including horses and cows, this is the first time lab-grown rhino embryos have reached the point they could be transferred into a uterus.

The scientists hope they could make enough rhino babies this way to have a genetically diverse population that could, eventually, be re-introduced into their traditional range. These are mature sexual reproduction cells, like a sperm or egg, that join to create a zygote, or fertilized egg cell.

"We are now able to acquire embryonic stem cells related to southern white rhinoceroses that contain all the properties of an undifferentiated cell with a high ability to differentiate", Galli said.

"The concern in the conservation community is that people will hear this and think, 'We can save the rhinos with science and then become more complacent about the other strategies we have in action now, '" Roth said as cited by CNN. "But we are extremely confident we can get the [eggs] out".

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