Scientists using IVF method to stop northern white rhino extinction

Using the in vitro fertilization method, not previously attempted with rhinos, scientists hope to fertilize eggs in a lab to then be implanted in a group of female southern white rhinos, a closely related subspecies.


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WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND — With less than a handful of northern white rhinos left on Earth, a team of UK scientists at a British Zoo will try to save the species using a procedure never previously attempted.

The three remaining northern white rhinos are under round the clock protection at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. There are two females, and one elderly male. Due to fertility issues, the females are unable to conceive offspring naturally.

As an alternative measure, scientists will extract sperm from the male northern white rhino, and eggs from the females. Using the in vitro fertilization method, any fertilized eggs will be implanted in a group of female southern white rhinos, a closely related subspecies, to be brought to term. If this attempt proves unsuccessful, scientists will combine the northern white rhino's sperm with the eggs of the southern white rhinos in the hope a cross-bred embryo will result.

In advance of experimenting with northern white rhino samples, the IVF technique will be first be tested using southern white rhino sperm and eggs. Creating an embryo outside a rhino has never been done before. If the scientists at Longleat Safari Park are able to pull this off, it would theoretically mark the first step to reviving the species from the very brink of extinction.

The northern white rhino population has been decimated in recent years due to hunting and poaching for its horns.
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