Najim Fatou, Catrine, Kenya discussed on The Economist: Babbage


And finally in conservation park in central kenya. Live najim fatou. The last remaining northern white rhinos the world's most endangered subspecies of mammal their mother and daughter. The last male sudan died in two thousand eighteen once nagina. In fact whose lives end the species will become extinct but they may not be lost forever. Researchers have been looking at ways to revive extinct species offering a glimmer of hope for the northern white rhino. They're basically two different approaches catrine. Brian is the economists of environment editor. One is effectively version of ivf in vitro fertilization. More or less the same thing as is done in humans but with considerably more international travel for the last few years on a number of occasions. Researchers from a collaboration known as bio rescue have flown into kenya in collaboration with park rangers. There they've done a procedure under general anesthesia. The two females have a number of immature eggs known as ots sites collected and those oh sites are then immediately flown to italy where fertilized with the frozen and then thawed sperm of the male who has been dead for some years and since two thousand in nineteen this process has produced nine frozen embryos so there are nine embryos of the northern white rhino species which are basically being held at minus one hundred ninety six degrees in an unknown location. At some point. The idea is to put those embryos into a surrogate. It's not actually going to go into national for complicated reasons at some point. They'll be implanted into a surrogate female. Most likely a southern white rhino which is a related species or subspecies and hopefully that will produce live northern white rhino babies. When will we know the team. When i spoke to the murder this year thoughts that by the end of the year they might make a first attempt at an embryo transfer. It seems ambitious to me bearing in mind that they've been trying to do this just with southern white rhinos so they've been sort of testing and so far they have not succeeded in having live birth so obviously they don't want to attempt the embryo transfer before they know that they've got the whole technicality of it sorted out because they've only got a small number of these embryos for the northern white rhino. The reason they're actually so keen to do it quickly is because in addition to the genetic inheritance. There's also a cultural inheritance. So the southern white rhino in the northern white rhino r. related but culturally different they have different lifestyles et cetera. And they want these babies. They want the young rhinos to be raised by a member of their own species so they want version in fact you to still be around if they can't give birth to them that's okay but they want them to be around to effectively mother them. It's not super fascinating. What's the second track. So the second track is not done. Humi- it's called in vitro gamut of genesis and the idea here is to work entirely with frozen cells so you could theoretically do this with a population that has gone extinct. You don't have a nash in or fatou but what you do have our frozen cells that were taken his biopsies at some point when the species was still around and obviously the supplies to the northern white rhinos. Well since we said there's a collection of these cells around the world so if you have a frozen egg and a frozen sperm than it's relatively straightforward and that is done in humans but what if you don't have a prison egg because there's really only a very small number of species around the world for which eggs have been collected and it's a very complicated procedure. What researchers in japan has shown. Is that with some really clever science. What you can do is you can take a skin cell and turn it into an excel and then fertilize those eggs with the frozen sperm. There's a lot more prisons sperm around than there is for his neck so this technique has been used for the northern white rhinos. Well right so. They're starting work on that. They have taken some frozen skin cells and managed to turn them into these induced pluripotent stem cells. They haven't yet turned them into an egg cell but at the minute what they're doing is they're testing those induced prepayments stem cells to see if they are in fact what they think they are if they are pluripotency so if they are able to turn into lonzo's and they've got some initial promising results but it's very early days but of course presumably there's more than just the white rhinos genetic material in the frozen zoo. We could go to lots other different species so in something known as the frozen zoo in san diego. They've got cells belonging to over a thousand species and subspecies of vertebrates. The thing that the san diego facility does that is separate to many of the other facilities the only stores they actually culture the cells so they make sure that they're still alive and they can multiply them and so far they've managed. I think there's about ten thousand cell lines. So there's there's a lot of promise there. And i should add that the san diego facility is not the only frozen zoo as it were around the world. There are many of these. So where do you think this is gonna end up. Is this going to be just simply a way to bring back species for the purpose of preservation or do you imagine zoos and entertainment to be emerged as we see woolly mammoths in either nature or zoo. Yes so that's a really interesting question. Willie mammoth obviously gets mentioned a lot when you talk about what's commonly known as de extinction. There's a big difference there the woolly mammoths. We have a genetic sequence. We don't actually have viable cells that you can grow in culture and the other important saying with the willie mama's is that it would basically only exist in zoo. The environment the species lived in the small sample of that still exists is currently melting as a result of climate change so bringing back species that doesn't correspond to any real environment that exists in a sustainable way on earth today to my mind makes little sense but preserving the species that we have the researchers really made a strong case for collecting stuff today for a future that may or may not exist so having this foresight to put things on ice now for technologies. That may come tomorrow. That to be makes a lot of sense. There's a lot of value in these frozen collections beyond bringing back species from the dead. There's genetic value in there. There's a whole lot of knowledge in there as it can be extracted without necessarily making babies as it were so i think ready the message to take away from this is the real importance of preserving what.

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