Scientists working on resurrecting nearly extinct white rhinos

Avatar By Lliane Hunter | 2 years ago

Several teams of scientists are working to resurrect the northern white rhinoceros after the last male died in March, reports Steph Yin for The New York Times. A group, led by researchers at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, is attempting to revive the northern white rhino using preserved cells. The team sequenced the DNA of these cells and determined that the genetic variety was diverse enough for re-establishing a viable population of northern whites.

In their study, published in Genome Research, Dr. Oliver Ryder and his colleagues focused on the possibility of recovering the northern white rhino using cells stored in the Frozen Zoo representing eight unrelated northern whites. They sequenced these genomes and compared them to genomes from southern white rhinos, which confirmed that the two are a subspecies rather than a distinct species. The team also discovered that sufficient genetic diversity exists in their northern white rhino samples, in order to go forward with a viable recovery. “If it came down to the materials in the Frozen Zoo, we could turn those cells into animals,” Dr. Ryder explains.

Critics of the effort question whether resurrecting a functionally extinct creature takes resources away from other animals with greater chances of survival. Some question the point of reviving an animal that can’t return to its native way of life. “As an ecologist, what I want is to see wild ecosystems functioning as close to naturally as they can,” says Jason Gilchrist, an ecologist at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland. Still, Dr. Ryder believes that this is a valuable aspect of conservation efforts, explaining that providing “more options for the existence of species into the future is an appropriate quest.”