September 02, 2019
Tragically the northern white rhino has been functionally extinct since 2018, when the last male died. There is still a small glimmer of hope for the species, there are still two living females, and frozen sperm from four males.
Researchers from Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research have now been able to harvest five eggs cells from each of the surviving females, and plan to artificially inseminate them using the frozen sperm cells. Should any embryos result from this technique, they will be frozen until suitable southern white rhino surrogates are found.
There are some concerns over the genetic variation of any baby rhinos that may be born thanks to this technique, using sperm from only four males and two females will result in a small gene pool. It is hoped that frozen tissue from other male northern white rhinos may be turned into ‘artificial’ sex cells, which would ensure more genetic variation in any offspring they produce. Hopefully this will be possible, as ensuring genetic variability in the population will be crucial for survival of the species.
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