Ol Pejeta creates hybrid embryo for northern white rhinos

Cristina Cross
July 7, 2018

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.

"Our goal is to have a northern white rhino calf on the ground in three years", lead author Thomas Hildebrant, a wildlife reproductive biologist at Germany's Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, told reporters during a Tuesday press briefing.

Scientists developed a hybrid embryo by combining the sperm of the northern white rhino and the egg of the southern white rhino, which population is now estimated at around 21,000 individuals, according to the zoo statement.

The result is the very first generation of pre-implantation embryos of rhinos in a test tube. However, considering the fact that there are only two female northern white rhinos left, acquisition of eggs would be challenging and the produced embryos will need to be frozen until the setting up of a surrogate.

In addition, researchers at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and the Scripps Research Institute are trying to create pluripotent stem cells using skin cells taken from a dozen northern white rhinos. The last male rhino, Sudan, died in March in Kenya, reports The Guardian.

Based on the lack of males, sperm would seem to be a major stumbling block, but forward-thinking researchers had already collected and stored sperm from four northern white rhinos.

"In the late 1990s, even the wild northern white rhino had a chance to recover from low numbers until civil unrest broke out in the DRC and the rhinos were all killed".

"The northern white rhino sperm, when they were thawed out, were not very good and had to be activated by an electrical stimulus", says Professor Renfree. Thanks to the continued dedication from scientists, conservationists and philanthropists across the world however, the miracle of their renaissance may now actually become a reality.

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Perhaps no species on Earth is closer to extinction as the northern white rhinoceros. A southern white rhino could then carry the resultant embryos to full term.

'We are quite confident with the technology we have developed'. "In fact, half of the genetic information of this hybrid embryo comes from the white northern rhinoceros, which is an wonderful success", Rabas was quoted as saying.

The female eggs ended in the laboratory of Avantea in Italy, the world's leader in artificial reproduction for large animals.

In a paper published to Nature Communications, Prof Thomas Hildebrandt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and a team of global researchers revealed they had recovered sperm from two dead male rhinos.

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

"Everyone believed there was no hope for this sub-species", Hildebrandt said.

To my mind, the time to save the northern white rhino has passed. Jurassic Park-esque scientific advances will only work if we save habitats, stop pollution, constrain invasive species, reverse climate change and halt poaching. "I do think that if there's one thing we should learn from this, it's that we shouldn't allow species to get to such a critical state that these high-tech approaches are the only ways of saving its genes".

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