Stem Cells Could Save Highly Endangered Species


Using human stem cells to reproduce highly specialized cells such as blood, nerve or muscle cells has been the source of much controversy because of the moral and ethical issues involved.

But what about using non-human stem cells to save endangered species?

For the first time ever, cells from the highly endangered white rhino (pictured above) and drill (an African primate) were transformed into stem cells that could hold the key to the future of their respective species.

The procedure, detailed in a recently published edition of Nature Methods, theorizes that induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) may eventually facilitate reintroduction of genetic material into breeding populations.

In endangered populations, there are too few reproductively capable animals to maintain adequate genetic diversity. Even when these species are kept in protective environments, there’s no guarantee that males and females will mate, or that the offspring will survive.

Because of this, the researchers could not use stem cells from fertilized embryos. Instead, stem cells were created by “re-programming” frozen skin cells (ARKive).

That’s why the success of this experiment is so significant.

In addition to medicinal applications, the stem cells could also potentially be used to make eggs and sperm, which could be used to create “test-tube” offspring of white rhinos, drills and other endangered species. If appropriate cells are preserved now, even species that go extinct in the next few years might not be lost forever.

But the technique is far from perfected, and quite expensive. Many experts say that it should only be thought of as a complement to conservation, not an alternative

“The prospects for using these techniques for continuing the genetic lineages of the last few individuals of a species will be a last-ditch effort, after we have failed to protect the species in earlier, simpler, cheaper, and more effective ways,” said Robert Lacy, a conservation scientist at the Chicago Zoological Society.

Related Reading:

Federal Judge Acts To Protect 40 Endangered Species

Rhino Poachers Strike Again

Burned Dog Gets Innovative Stem Cell Treatment

Image Credit: Flickr - Sarah Depper


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra6 years ago

Thank you Beth, for Sharing this!

Andrea A.
Andrea A6 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Carole R.
Carole R7 years ago

Interesting. Good news. Thanks for the information.

Christina B.
Christina B7 years ago

Exciting news, if only the same technique could be used to reproduce human organs, thousands of lives could be saved.

Sonya Armenia Redfield

save animals & that's what i try & do . 90% of people hurt animals by eating them wearing them of killing them !

Katherine W.
Katherine Wright7 years ago

Suzanne, you are correct. Humans shouldn't be hunting and killing animals to begin with that hurls them to {near} extinction.

Shame on humans...when will we ever learn? Who died and gave humans the "right" to abuse, neglect, torture and murder animals????? And who gave humans the "right" to exploit animals for sport, entertainment or profit????

Humans disgust me.

Suzanne Hall
Suzanne Hall7 years ago

If we didn't slaughter every animal alive for whatever reason, they wouldn't be becoming extinct in the first place. Stop killing rhinos for their horns. The "medicine" from the horns is worthless, and the Chinese need to stop using this worthless medicine, and let the rhinos have their own horns. And every other animal needs to be left in peace, not killed for their body parts. Animals are not here to supply humans with their body parts or entertain us. They should be left alone to live in peace.

Marjaana V.
M Y7 years ago

shirley and ruth, it's the playing god and thinking that we, humans, are above all beings - just like it says somewhere in the bible - that got us into this damned mess in the first place!

Mary L.
Mary L7 years ago

Colleen P, rhino's aren't eaten or used for worship. They're slaughtered for their horns. Their bodies are left to rot so people can illegally kill them to make money bu selling the horns to China. The horns are ancient Chineese viagra, except it doesn't work.

William Y.
William Y7 years ago

I say go for it, and I find nothing wrong with using human stem cells for humans either.