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Stem cell technology may help save endangered species


With the help of stem cells, some endangered species may be saved from eternal extinction.

Scientist say they have harvested the first set of stem cells from two species, Africa’s northern white rhinos and the baboon-like drill monkey, reports AFP. Eventually, the stem cells could theoretically be used to recreate these nearly-vanished animals without the need for a healthy mating pair.

Threats and destruction caused by humans — mainly poaching and loss of habitable land — has whittled down the number of northern white rhinos to only seven — yes, seven, all of which live in captivity. And past efforts to save the drill primates have failed due to the species tendency to develop diabetes when in captivity.

Researcher Jeanne Loring, PhD, and her colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute in California, whose study was recently published in the journal Nature Methods, say they have made encouraging process with regards to the northern white rhino stem cells they’ve tested.

“The best way to manage extinction is to preserve species and habitats but that is not always working,” said Dr. Oliver Ryder, director of genetics at the San Diego Zoo and co-leader of the study. “Stem cell technology provides some level of hope that they won’t have to become extinct even though they have been completely eliminated from their habitat.”

Stem cells have successfully been used in the past to grow specific types of bodily tissue. The next step for doctors Loring and Ryder is to successfully create sperm and egg cells for the rhinos and drills. If possible, this could enable them to create baby animals with more genetic diversity than currently exist, which would make them better able to withstand dangers of their new world.

Of course, the need to bring animals back from extinction, while technically an achievement, is actually a sign of how dire things have become for some of Earth’s most fragile creatures. And even if scientists are able to revive dying creatures, it doesn’t mean we will leave them any place to survive.

[Image via Jason Prince/Shutterstock]

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