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Assisted reproductive technology may save the northern white rhino from extinction

29 June 2019, at 9:00am

Scientists have been able to successfully transfer a northern white rhino embryo into the uterus of a surrogate, representing a crucial conservation step for the critically endangered species.

The move, announced at a press conference in Berlin, indicates that further tests which track the status of the implantation in the uterine lining will be carried out soon. This milestone brings hope for safeguarding biodiversity for future generations.

The northern white rhino is the most endangered mammal in the world with only two remaining females. Conventional approaches to revive the population have been unsuccessful over the past two decades.

Leading fertility expert Merck are collaborating with Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and Avantea, experts in large animal assisted reproduction, to support efforts in saving the northern white rhino from extinction.

Before the last male northern white rhinos died, semen samples were collected and frozen. This semen has been used to fertilise eggs collected from the two remaining female northern white rhinos.

These embryos are then cultivated in Merck’s innovative incubator Geri and supported by Geri Connect and Assess software, the embryo can be tracked in real time and key events in embryo development can be detected automatically so the embryos do not need to be disturbed.

ART has never been completely successful in the northern white rhino, and neither have conventional approaches to establish a self-sustaining population.

If successful, this may have implications for conservation and biodiversity safeguarding approaches towards endangered mammals worldwide.

Whilst there is a long way to go on this journey, we hope these steps will pave the way to welcoming the first northern white rhino calf to the world since the year 2000.