Every Sumatran rhino has died in Malaysia. Scientists want to bring them back with cloning technology

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Now Malaysian scientists hope to use tissues and cells from Iman and other dead rhinos to bring the population back.

The project, led by a team from the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), focuses on stem cell technology and in vitro fertilization. The process is similar to cloning technology, in that it aims to give birth to a new baby using cells from old rhinos, said Dr Muhammad Lokman Bin Md. Isa, one of the lead researchers.

“Before the three rhinos (the last survivors in Malaysia) died, we got their cells, and the cells are still alive – that’s why I’m pretty confident,” Dr Lokman told CNN. “If you don’t have cells, or if we just have tissue that is no longer alive, there is nothing we can do with it. We can only put them in a book or a museum. But now we have a living being that we can use. ”

Here’s how the process works: In collaboration with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), researchers collected cells and tissues from the last three Sumatran rhinos at the BORA sanctuary – including Iman – before their deaths.

The cells came from the heart, lungs, brain and kidneys of rhinos. Basically, the team collected stem cells – essentially, the raw material from which cells with specialized functions can be generated.There are then two possible approaches. The first is to develop these stem cells into an egg and a sperm, to create an embryo that will be implanted in a surrogate mother. The surrogate will probably be another rhino, a Sumatran rhino from another country or another species.

The second method involves taking the egg of a surrogate animal, removing the nucleus and attaching it to the somatic cell of a Sumatran rhino. This technique was used to clone Dolly the Sheep in 1996.

Lokman and his colleagues are trying both ways.

Because stem cells self-replicate, the team has a decent supply of it and can try different methods to see which one works best.

There are 2 northern white rhinos left in the world.  Scientists created embryos to save animal from extinction

The team is still in the preliminary stages; then they have to analyze the cells to create a genomic database, differentiate stem cells, and work with zoos and conservatories to find a suitable surrogate mother. This could go wrong in several ways; fertilization could fail, and even if it does not, the pregnancy could fail once the embryo is implanted.

But there are signs of hope in similar projects around the world. A Kenyan reserve is home to the world’s only two northern white rhinos, Fatu and Najin, both of whom are females. Last year, scientists successfully fertilized in vitro embryos taken from the two remaining females with sperm from dead males, which was celebrated as a major breakthrough in saving the subspecies.

The race against extinction

Iman died at BORA’s Borneo Rhino Sanctuary last year, where she had been kept and cared for since her capture in 2014. She was 25 and had cancer, which was starting to hurt because a tumor was growing. pressure on his bladder.

His death came months after Tam, Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino, died of organ failure. Environmentalists had hoped to raise Tam and Iman.

Tam was the only male Sumatran rhino remaining in Malaysia before he died in 2019.

A number of factors have complicated these efforts; the female rhinos in the reserve were found to be sterile and plans to set up an international breeding collaboration ultimately failed due to a “series of incidents, some socio-political, some biological and others just bad luck. ”Said Susie Ellis, Executive Director. from the International Rhino Foundation, in a statement after Tam’s death.

The Sumatran rhinos, the world’s smallest rhino species, are listed as Critically Endangered by the World Wildlife Fund. The International Rhino Foundation estimates that there are less than 80 alive in the world.

With Iman’s death, IRF declared the species extinct in the wild in Malaysia; the remaining rhinos are scattered across Indonesia and Thailand.

Scientists create fake rhino horn from horsehair in an attempt to save the species

The population decline was initially caused by poaching for their horns, which were coveted as ingredients of traditional Asian medicine. It was later exacerbated by fragmented habitats and human encroachment on the environment, which prevent rhinos from congregating and reproducing.

International trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977, regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but individual countries determine their own laws that allow or prohibit its nationwide sales, according to Save the Rhinoceros.

There are only five rhino species left in the world, and all of them are threatened. Some subspecies have already disappeared; the western black rhino, native to West Africa, was declared extinct in 2013 due to poaching. The last male northern white rhino died last year, which prompted scientists to try in vitro fertilization with Fatu and Najin.

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