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The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications on Wednesday.

IVF could be the answer to conserving the genes of the world's most endangered mammal, the northern white rhino, according to a new worldwide scientific journal.

"And there are just two female northern white rhinos alive today, so acquiring white rhino [eggs] will be challenging and their number will be limited".

Both are descendants of Sudan and live in Kenya, and were considered infertile.

The research is facilitated by the Dvur Kralove Zoo and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

In a paper published to Nature Communications, Prof Thomas Hildebrandt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and a team of worldwide researchers revealed they had recovered sperm from two dead male rhinos.

Why are there so few northern white rhinos left?

Professor Cesare Galli, from the Avantea research laboratory in Cremona, Italy, which specialises in veterinary IVF, said: "In our lab we were able to develop procedures to mature the oocytes, fertilise them by Icsi and culture them".

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"It is important that we learn from the plight of the northern white rhino and we make sure what happened to it does not happen to other endangered species".

However, the southern white rhino has been considered one of the hallmark conservation success stories, with a population estimated by some groups to now exceed 20,000 individuals. Jan Stejskal, who is a part of the research team said, "We now see clearly a moral obligation not only to help the NWR to somehow survive in captivity but later even help them get back to their original range and be wild again".

While IVF has been done in horses, it is the first time embryos have been created which have a chance of becoming rhino calves, by reaching the "blastocyst" stage at which they are ready to be implanted.

They hope to eventually implant their embryos into the more common southern white rhino females and then breed any resulting rhinos to try and concentrate their northern white rhino genes. Scientists say they're several steps closer to perfecting a method for stopping the extinction of northern white rhinos. These cells are adult cells, such as blood or skin cells, that are reprogrammed to act like stem cells. "In a second step these germ cells will then be transformed into eggs and sperm", explain Dr Sebastian Diecke, stem cell expert at the Max Delbrueck Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) in Berlin, Germany, and Prof Katsuhiko Hayashi, stem cell expert at the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, Kyushu University, Japan.

Following Sudan's death, scientists began to look for new ways to restore the species, on the verge of extinction because of the lack of male specimens due to poaching. "Previous attempts to establish a managed breeding program for this sub-species failed". The desperate logic of mixing subspecies and applying assisted reproduction technology is also being discussed regarding the Sumatran rhino.

Burgeoning new technology - such as the methods used in this study - may offer promising alternatives for conservation efforts, but technology is not a panacea for wildlife conservation, according to Roth. "We didn't have many options so we had to be realistic", he said.

"It's very unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation".


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