Monday, 26 March 2018

How IVF and stem cell science could save the northern white rhino from extinction

Scientists believe they can bring the species back from the brink after the death of the last male last week

Science editor

Sun 25 Mar 2018 00.05 GMTLast modified on Sun 25 Mar 2018 00.10 GMT

Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, was put down last week because of ill health, leaving only two ageing females. Photograph: Georgina Goodwin/Barcroft Media

The story of humanity’s interaction with the northern white rhino is one of the conservation movement’s grimmest tales of recent years. “In the 60s there were 2,500 northern whites left in central Africa,” said Paul De Ornellas of the Zoological Society of London. “Poaching brought that down to 30 by the end of the 20th century, and now to the last two.”

Last week the species’ last male, Sudan, had to be put down because of ill health, leaving only two ageing females on the planet as representatives of a creature that once roamed in its tens of thousands across Africa. It is a sad history which, most of the world assumes, is nearing its end.

But human ingenuity could yet save a species that has been brought to the brink of extinction. The plan, which involves in vitro fertilisation (IVF), stem cell science and gene editing, could also pave the way to rescue other animals at risk, such as the Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

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