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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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Report: A third of Welsh birds are in decline

News Story 1
 A report by RSPB Cymru and partnering ornithology organisations has revealed that a third of bird species in Wales are in significant decline.

90 per cent of Wales is farmed and there is now pressure to implement new land management policies that will aid in nature restoration.

Patrick Lindley, Maritime Ornithologist for Natural Resources Wales, commented: “The problems that confront UK birds, whether they are breeding or non-breeding, are pressure and threats that confront entire ecosystems.

“Birds are a great indicator to the health of our environment. The continued population declines of birds of farmed, woodland and upland habitats suggest there are large geographic themes that are having a detrimental impact.”  

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News Shorts
British sheep meat to be exported to India in new agreement

The UK government has secured a new export deal of sheep meat to India.

In 2017, UK sheep meat exports were worth £386 million. This new agreement is predicted to increase this value by £6 million over the next five years.

With a range of meat cuts due to be exported, the deal is seen by international trade secretary, Dr Liam Fox MP, as “another vote of confidence in our world-leading food and drink”.