The Sumatran rhinoceros are considered a critically endangered species, with an estimated 80 or fewer Sumatran rhinos alive in the world today who all currently live in Indonesia. A large reason the Sumatran rhinoceros has declined in population so dramatically is largely due to habitat loss and the development of fragmented populations, reducing mating abilities. Despite the best efforts of conservationists to help restore the rhino population (which included a list of successes and failures), the Sumatran rhinoceros remains a critically endangered species. Conservationists have few options to help these populations.
In a recent paper published in iScience, researchers at the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, Germany, claim to have achieved what previously would have been called science fiction: creating living cells from dead tissue. Researchers hope their efforts could provide new ways to help prevent the extinction of Sumatran rhinoceroses.
Using tissue samples from a rhinoceros named Kertam (the last remaining male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia, who died over two years ago), researchers have developed a way to grow vital stem cells and even small brains, highlighting an interesting way forward in the fight against Sumatran rhino extinction.
Researchers were able to take cells from Kertam and replicate the cells as much as they needed, which also offered the ability to produce any type of cell researchers wanted. However, the cells needed to be fostered with certain cells that released certain growth factors that allowed the new cells to retain an essential quality of stem cells: pluripotency, or the ability to change into whatever type of cell was needed. The team ultimately created cells that kept Kertam’s genetic details while even creating spermatozoa that could be used for future breeding efforts to rebuild rhino populations.
One of the study lead authors highlighted that their work should be seen less as a commonplace strategy in the fight against animal extinction and more as an exceptional practice.