How IVF could bring white rhino back from the dead

The Week - Nov 07, 14:32 GMT

Description  A caregiver with Sudan, the last known male northern white rhino

Sudan the rhino

A caregiver with Sudan, the last known male northern white rhino.


Tony Karumba / GETTY
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Sudan the rhino

A DNA insight raises hopes that the northern white rhino could be saved from extinction

One-Minute Read

Wednesday, November 7, 2018 - 3:43pm

The northern white rhino could come back from extinction, as a result of a hybrid approach to in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), scientists believe.

The species had been decimated as a result of Africa's poaching crisis, and the world mourned in March when the last male northern white rhino, Sudan, passed away without reproducing.

Since Sudan's passing, scientists have been working tirelessly to safeguard the survival of the species. Earlier this year, a team of international scientists tested the development of "test-tube rhinos," where they extracted stem cell lines from southern white rhinos and created hybrid rhino embryos.

Now, recent developments published in the scientific journal, “Proceedings of the Royal Society B,” have revealed the process might be more feasible than scientists initially imagined.

In the paper, DNA tested from 200 northern and southern rhinos revealed at some point in history, possibly during the Ice Age, they had previously mated with each other and shared their genetic information.

“If they have been in genetic contact relatively recently, for example, within the last 20,000 years, they may be less genetically incompatible than previously thought, making it more likely that hybrids could survive and reproduce,” Professor Michael Bruford, one of the study's authors, told The Independent.

If the hybrid-embryo operation is successful, this would open possibilities for future preservations of endangered species. In addition, several generations of intensive inbreeding could slowly dilute the southern white rhino genes until the only northern white rhino genes remained.

“We think [the study] improves the chances,” Brufold told the BBC. “It is difficult to predict what might happen... but given the current options for the northern white rhino it becomes a more viable option.”

The northern white rhino used to be commonly found throughout northern Africa, but because of illegal hunting efforts, its numbers dwindled until now, the last remaining northern white rhinos are both infertile and female.

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