Northern white rhino could be saved from extinction with cousin’s DNA

Northern white rhino ‘could be saved from extinction’: DNA from the species’ less endangered southern cousin could drive a new breeding programme

  • Scientists may have finally cracked how to save the northern white rhinoceros 
  • DNA from the less endangered southern white rhinoceros could help
  • They want to make an embryo using both southern and north rhino genes
  • They would then implant this embryo into a female southern rhino

GoFundMe page for the project.

Researchers in Berlin and San Diego are using DNA samples collected from a dozen northern whites, including Sudan, and trying to apply techniques developed for humans to the animal.

If a viable embryo can be created, it would then have to be implanted into the womb of a southern white rhino, since Majin and Patu will likely be dead before the technique is perfected.

While the southern white rhino would be responsible for giving birth to the baby, because the infant’s genetic material came solely from northern whites, it would be a member of that species.

However, as Save The Rhino points out, the process is fraught with difficulty and has a low chance of success.

In the last 15 years just 10 rhino births have resulted from artificial insemination and only two embryos have ever been created – one of which divided into two cells before perishing, and the other one into three.

For the northern white rhino to be genetically viable a minimum of 20 healthy individuals must be born – meaning the whole process must be successfully completed 20 times – to avoid inbreeding.

Then, it would be necessary to find a suitable habitat for them, since their old habitat has largely been destroyed and led the species to the brink of extinction in the first place.

The southern white rhinoceros declining during colonialism, starting 400 years ago.

Professor Yoshan Moodley, from the University of Venda, said: ‘It appears that the white rhinoceros is no stranger to low genetic diversity.

Our results show that the species was subjected to several climatically and anthropogenically driven population declines, which would have reduced and compressed genetic diversity in the past.

‘This is one of the few large animals to survive the last ice age, and it seems that the additional human pressure on an already genetically compromised species has pushed the white rhinoceros further along the road to extinction.’

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 


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