Stem cells may save rhinos from extinction

The odds aren’t great for male northern white rhinos looking for love. Only two females are left on the planet, and imminent extinction does not seem to make rhinos particularly horny: the last time this captive population produced a baby was in 2000. Now, there may be a way to save this and other endangered species – with stem cells rather than sex.

For the first time researchers have turned frozen skin cells from two highly endangered species – the northern white rhino and the baboon-like drill – into stem cells that can become any cell in the body, including sperm and eggs. These could be used to impregnate animals through techniques similar to in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Stem cells have already been created from ordinary cells in people, rhesus monkeys and mice. Jeanne Loring of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and her team has now done the same for a rhino and the drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus), a primate closely related to the mandrill, using frozen samples.

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