Scientists Trying to Save Northern White Rhino
poolparty | April 17, 2008 at 08:30 amby
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The Northern White Rhinoceros is one of the most endangered animals on the planet. There are only 13 left in the wild, 9 left in captivity, and only a few capable of actually breeding. Scottish scientists are hoping to save them from extinction with a new revolutionary genetic technique.
WITH only 13 of the creatures left struggling to survive on the plains of the Congo, the northern white rhinoceros is one of the most threatened species in the world. Plagued by poachers and with its habitat fast disappearing, the magnificent beast is now on the critically endangered list.
But new hope could be on the horizon, as Scottish scientists are hoping to use an innovative technique to save the creatures from extinction. It involves a pioneering genetic process that merges its stem cells with those of its cousin, the southern white rhino, to create a new animal, called a chimera.
It would be the first time the process has been used to try to preserve a species facing extinction in the wild – and, if successful, it could be used to save other endangered animals.
Poachers and loss of habitat in the one place where the northern white rhino still lives, the Garamba National Park in the Congo, has put the species' survival in grave danger.
But Professor Bob Millar, a reproductive biologist and a director of the Medical Research Council Reproductive Sciences Unit at Edinburgh University, thinks he could have hit upon the solution.
He is applying for funding to try out the new technique, which mixes the embryo of the more common southern white rhino with cells from its threatened cousin.
"We have a very ambitious idea to create chimeras, where we use the embryo from the southern white rhino and we introduce cells that we have stored away from the northern white rhino," he told The Scotsman.
This creates rhinos that have a mixture of sperm and eggs from both species. The chimeras are then encouraged to mate with each other in captivity, and they produce both northern and southern white rhinos, which can then be released back into their respective species in the wild.
"We think it's very ambitious. If we succeed in this, it could be a major breakthrough in protecting this species that is disappearing," Prof Millar said.
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