In a groundbreaking achievement, scientists have achieved rhinoceros pregnancy through in vitro fertilization (IVF), marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing efforts to rescue the critically endangered northern white rhino. With only two individuals of this subspecies remaining, the innovative reproductive technique, akin to a beacon of hope, could be the key to preventing their extinction.
Researchers from the BioRescue project conducted the IVF procedure using a southern white rhino, a closely related subspecies. The process involved transferring a lab-created rhino embryo into a surrogate mother situated in Kenya. Regrettably, the surrogate mother passed away 70 days into the pregnancy due to an unrelated bacterial infection. However, the success of the IVF technique has opened promising avenues for the potential restoration of the northern white rhino.
The harvested tissue from the embryo served as crucial evidence, affirming the viability of the IVF approach for preserving other rhino populations. According to Jan Stejskal, the coordinator of the BioRescue project, achieving the first successful embryo transfer in a rhino represents a significant milestone, instilling confidence in the prospect of applying the technique to save the critically endangered species.
The northern white rhino faces imminent extinction due to rampant poaching driven by the demand for rhino horns. The remaining two elderly females are closely monitored in Kenya under stringent protection measures. The success of the IVF procedure offers hope for restoring this vital species to its natural habitat, contributing to the healing of the ecosystem in central Africa.
However, the challenges are formidable. The last male northern white rhino died in 2018, and the remaining females cannot carry pregnancies. Despite these hurdles, international support is rallying to preserve these rhinos. BioRescue aims to implant a lab-grown northern white rhino embryo into a southern white rhino through IVF. The southern white rhino will act as a surrogate, aiding in the repopulation of the critically endangered species.
The recent IVF success represents the initial phase of a complex process that involved collaborative efforts spanning years and international borders. Sperm was collected from a southern white rhino in Austria, egg cells from another in Belgium, and fertilization took place in Italy. Finally, the embryos were transferred to a surrogate mother in Kenya. The challenges in achieving sustained pregnancy through IVF were substantial, requiring 13 attempts.
BioRescue is now focused on the next phase, involving the transfer of a northern white rhino embryo into a surrogate mother. Only 30 such embryos exist, posing a race against time. The goal is to have new northern white rhino calves born before the remaining females pass away. Conservationists recognize the complexity of the task but emphasize the importance of attempting to save this critically endangered species.
The likely surrogates for these embryos are two southern white rhinos named Arimet and Daly. BioRescue plans to use southern white rhinos as surrogates until the northern subspecies can breed independently, a process expected to take place in the next 10 to 15 years. Despite the challenges, the successful IVF pregnancy, like a guiding light, has provided hope for the conservation of the northern white rhino.
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