JUL 20, 2017 1:31 PM PDT

An Attempt to Save the Northern White Rhino from Extinction is Underway

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

The northern white rhino is quickly hurtling towards extinction. For many years. Animal poachers plinked them off one-by-one to cash in on their valuable horns, resulting in the dangerously tiny population that exists today.

Just three northern white rhinos remain in the entire world; one male and two females, but it seems unlikely that they will mate and produce offspring naturally. They live in captivity at Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, where they are heavily guarded to prevent them from being killed by poachers.

Nola was one of the world's last remaining white rhinos. She passed away in November of 2015.

Image Credit: San Diego Zoo Safari Park/Facebook

Related: One of the last remaining northern white rhinos passes away, leaving just three in existence

Given the grim circumstances, experts are beginning to look for alternative ways to help the species reproduce before it’s too late. One way to go about it is to use to an assisted reproductive technology dubbed In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

This procedure involves extracting egg cells from a female host and artificially fertilizing them with sperm cells in the lab. Everything happens outside of the female’s body up until an embryo is produced; once that happens, it’s planted inside a surrogate female’s uterus to continue development.

The plan is to extract egg cells from one or both remaining female northern white rhinos before the end of the year. Once in hand, an attempt will be made to fertilize them with sperm from the last remaining male and then grow an embryo. Experts will then take that embryo and implant it inside the uterus of a female southern white rhino, a close relative of the northern white rhino. Although the southern white rhino is similar to the northern white rhino, the two species are unique genetically.

A backup plan is also in place just in case things go horribly wrong. At least nine egg cells have already been extracted from a southern white rhino at Longleat Safari Park in England. If the initial attempt to fertilize northern white rhino eggs with northern white rhino sperm fails, it may be possible to fertilize the southern white rhino eggs with northern white rhino sperm instead. While producing a hybrid between the two species isn’t the optimal outcome, at least 50% of the northern white rhino’s DNA could live on even if all remaining specimens died out.

All outcomes are purely theoretical since IVF has never been used on a rhino species before. Nevertheless, if we are to save a dying species, it seems to be worth a try.

Related: Seven puppies are born via In Vitro Fertilization for the first time

Using artificial means of supplementing animal conservation efforts isn’t a new idea. While there are some ethical decisions to be made if things don’t quite go as planned, it could be the only way to save the northern white rhino from what looks like imminent extinction, and perhaps other animal species on the brink could benefit from this technology too.

Right now, there's not much anyone can do besides hope for the best. It's both a waiting game and a game of chance.

Source: BBC

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUN 30, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Soft coral garden in Greenland needs protection
JUN 30, 2020
Soft coral garden in Greenland needs protection
Research published in Frontiers in Marine Science paper describes the discovery of a soft coral garden in the waters off ...
AUG 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Woolly Rhinos Weren't Hunted to Extinction
AUG 17, 2020
Woolly Rhinos Weren't Hunted to Extinction
It's been hypothesized that animals like the woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and cave lion began to disappear at t ...
SEP 01, 2020
Plants & Animals
Revealing a Mummy's Secrets With High-Resolution Scans
SEP 01, 2020
Revealing a Mummy's Secrets With High-Resolution Scans
Researchers have used a technique called micro–computer tomography (micro-CT) scanning to analyze mummified animal ...
SEP 06, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Climate Change Caused a Mastodon Migration
SEP 06, 2020
Climate Change Caused a Mastodon Migration
Around 11,000 years ago, megafauna of the earth began to go extinct. Mastodons were some of the largest land animals liv ...
SEP 21, 2020
Neuroscience
Scientists Compare Structural and Functional Evolution with First Atlas of Cavefish Brains
SEP 21, 2020
Scientists Compare Structural and Functional Evolution with First Atlas of Cavefish Brains
Cavefish are fish that dwell in caves, unable to access the outside world. Often, they were separated from their closest ...
OCT 15, 2020
Plants & Animals
Meet the World's First Cloned Przewalski's Horse
OCT 15, 2020
Meet the World's First Cloned Przewalski's Horse
Say “hello!” to Kurt, a two-month-old Przewalski’s horse that has made scientific history as the world ...
Loading Comments...