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IVF could bring back northern white rhinos
With only two females left in existence, northern white rhinos are functionally extinct. (Stock photo)
Creation of hybrid embryos hailed a ‘breakthrough’

Northern white rhinos could be brought back from the brink of extinction, after scientists successfully created the first hybrid embryos.

With only two females left in existence, the species is functionally extinct. But in a groundbreaking new study, scientists managed to adapt reproduction techniques used in horses, to offer fresh hope for the species.

An international research team used assisted reproduction techniques (ART) to create the hybrid embryos, with eggs from southern white rhinos and cryopreserved sperm from deceased northern white rhinos. Several embryos are now cryopreserved, to be transferred into surrogate mothers in future.

“The successful development of a hybrid embryo is a major step towards the first birth of a Northern White Rhino through artificial reproduction techniques,” said Jan Stejskal, from Dvůr Králové safari park in the Czech Republic.

The team said they are now well prepared to go to Kenya to collect oocytes from the remaining two northern white rhino females. ‘Pure’ blastocysts could then be produced, using both eggs and sperm from northern white rhinos.

However, as there are only two females left and the available semen comes from just four male rhinos, it is unlikely that the above techniques will be enough to create a self-sufficient population, with the necessary amount of genetic diversity. With this in mind, scientists are working on an additional approach - generating gametes using stem cell technology.

Professor Cesare Galli, of Avantea, which is a world leader in ART, explained: “Pluripotent stem cells have the ability to self-renew indefinitely and to develop into any cell of a living organism. We - at Avantea - successfully generated SWR embryonic stem cells with all the features of undifferentiated cells and a high capacity for differentiation in different cell lineages.”

Steven Seet, of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, commented: “This research is groundbreaking. We are witnessing the development of a method that can help to compensate the negative impact of humans on nature.”

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Vets save premature penguin chick

News Story 1
 Vets have saved a tiny Humboldt penguin chick after her egg was accidentally broken by her parents. Keepers at ZSL London Zoo were shocked to find the chick, named Rainbow, still alive and rushed her straight to the Zoo’s on-site veterinary clinic.

It was a little way to go until the chick should have hatched, so the process was touch and go. Vets removed bits of shell from around the chick with tweezers until she could be lifted out and placed in a makeshift nest.

Rainbow is now in a custom-built incubation room where she spends her days cuddled up to a toy penguin. Keepers will hand-fed Rainbow for the next 10 weeks until she is healthy enough to move to the penguin nursery.  

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BVA infographic to help shoppers understand farm assurance schemes

An infographic to help members of the public understand farm assurance schemes has been produced by the BVA. The infographic outlines BVA’s priorities for animal welfare and shows whether or not the schemes address these priorities in their standards.

BVA president John Fishwick said: “The infographic is not intended to be a league table but to allow people to understand what aspects of animal health and welfare are addressed by assurance schemes so that they can decide which scheme best aligns with their own individual preferences and priorities."