The Last Male Northern White Rhino Died Five Years Ago, But Researchers Believe Some Frozen Skin Can Save Them From Extinction

peterralph - - illustrative purposes only, not the actual rhinos

Five years ago, the last male northern white rhino died. With just two infertile females left, the future of the species is seemingly doomed. The frozen skin of dead northern white rhinos could provide the answer, saving the species from extinction.

A new study has found that a stable population could be grown from the skin cells of 12 deceased northern white rhinos by using a closely related southern white rhino as a surrogate.

Not only will this method help boost northern white rhino numbers, but it will also give rise to a more genetically diverse population.

Scientists collaborating with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance believe that embryos can be generated from 12 frozen skin cells.

According to the San Diego Zoo, these cells are stored in the “Frozen Zoo,” a facility that contains the largest collection of living cell cultures, gametes, and embryos in the world.

In the latest study, a computer model was used to analyze the survival rates of northern white rhinos born from these cells.

The results showed that a genetically stable population could be produced over 10 generations. The study was published in the journal Evolutionary Applications.

While the new research has confirmed that the revival of the northern white rhino species is possible, there are still several barriers that can prevent the process from being a success. For one, the frozen skin cells need to be turned into egg and sperm cells, which is no easy task.

“Banked skin cells (fibroblast cell lines) can be reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which have the ability to differentiate into any cell type,” the study’s co-author Aryn Wilder explained to IFLScience.

“From there, iPSCs can be directed to differentiate into primordial germ cells that give rise to sperm and eggs.”

peterralph – – illustrative purposes only, not the actual rhinos

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