International scientists set up a rescue plan for the worldwide last three northern white rhinos(Ceratotherium simum cottoni). The goal is to use the remaining three rhinos and tissue samples from already dead individuals to multiply them into a viable self-sustaining population. For this purpose scientists apply recent findings in reproduction and stem cell research.
Under the direction of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), San Diego Zoo Global (USA), Tiergarten Schönbrunn (Austria) and ZOO Dvůr Králové (Czech Republic) experts developed a rescue plan for the northern white rhino.
The plan is to reproduce northern white rhinos using natural gametes of the last living individuals as well as using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). The iPS cells can be gained from rhino somatic cells, for example from the skin. Subsequently, in the future, it might be possible to specifically mature the iPS cells into neurons, heart muscle cells or even gametes. If everything goes according to plan, in vitro fertilised gametes can be introduced into surrogate mothers and fertile northern white rhinos will be produced. This first use of stem cell technology in animal conservation is ground breaking. A success offers new possibilities in the fight against species extinction caused by humans.
At the expert meeting “Conservation by Cellular Technologies“, which took place from 3rd to 6th December in Vienna, international scientists from four continents came to the conclusion that the northern white rhino can only be rescued by using cellular techniques. One of the participants in the meeting, the Japanese stem cell scientist Katsuhiko Hayashi (Kyushu University), has already grown mice out of simple skin cells. An international team of researchers is now working on transferring this model of success to northern white rhinos.
Only three individuals remain after the death of Nola, a 41-year-old northern white rhinoceros at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on 22nd November, and Nabiré, a 32-year-old female at ZOO Dvůr Králové on 27th July, 2015. The last three individuals, a male and two females, presently live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Age and reproductive challenges make the possibility of natural reproduction unlikely but the DNA of a dozen individual northern white rhinos has been preserved in genetic banks in Berlin and San Diego. The experts are using this genetic information to bring back the species.
The first studies with the remaining cells of the northern white rhinos have already begun. The complete rescue and research plan will be published as a status report (white paper) next year.
After 50 years of sending rockets, satellites, and payloads into orbit, humanity has created something of a “space junk” problem. Recent estimates indicate that there are more than 170 million pieces of debris up there, ranging in size from less than 1 cm (o.4 in) to a few meters in diameter. Not only does this junk threaten spacecraft and the ISS, but collisions between bits of debris can cause more to form, a phenomena known as the Kessler Effect.
Scientists recently discovered the hottest planet ever found – with a surface temperature greater than some stars. As the hunt for planets outside our own solar system continues, we have discovered many other worlds with extreme features. And the ongoing exploration of our own solar system has revealed some pretty weird contenders, too. Here are seven of the most extreme.
When you consider that age of the Universe – 13.8 billion years by our most recent counts – and that which is “observable” to us measures about 27.6 billion light years in diameter, you begin to wonder why we haven’t found signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) beyond our Solar System. To paraphrase Enrico Fermi, the 20th century physicists who advanced the famous Fermi Paradox – “where the heck are all the aliens?”
From prayer and sacrifice to sunbathing, humans have worshipped the sun since time immemorial. And it’s no wonder. At around 150m km away, it is close enough to provide the light, heat and energy to sustain the entire human race. But despite the fact that our parent star has been studied extensively with modern telescopes – both from home and in space – there’s a lot we don’t know about it.
Scientists have long tried to explain the origin of a mysterious, large and anomalously cold region of the sky. In 2015, they came close to figuring it out as a study showed it to be a “supervoid” in which the density of galaxies is much lower than it is in the rest of the universe. However, other studies haven’t managed to replicate the result.
Collapsing stars are a rare thing to witness. And when astronomers are able to catch a star in the final phase of its evolution, it is a veritable feast for the senses. Ordinarily, this process consists of a star undergoing gravitational collapse after it has exhausted all of its fuel, and shedding its outer layers in a massive explosion (aka. a supernova). However, sometimes, stars can form black holes without the preceding massive explosion.
The announcement of a seven-planet system around the star TRAPPIST-1 earlier this year set off a flurry of scientific interest. Not only was this one of the largest batches of planets to be discovered around a single star, the fact that all seven were shown to be terrestrial (rocky) in nature was highly encouraging. Even more encouraging was the fact that three of these planets were found to be orbiting with the star’s habitable zone.
Since it was first proposed in the 1960s to account for all the “missing mass” in the Universe, scientists have been trying to find evidence of dark matter. This mysterious, invisible mass theoretically accounts for 26.8% of the baryonic matter (aka. visible matter) out there. And yet, despite almost fifty years of ongoing research and exploration, scientists have not found any direct evidence of this missing mass.
Since the late 1920s, astronomers have been aware of the fact that the Universe is in a state of expansion. Initially predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, this realization has gone on to inform the most widely-accepted cosmological model – the Big Bang Theory. However, things became somewhat confusing during the 1990s, when improved observations showed that the Universe’s rate of expansion has been accelerating for billions of years.
The extra-solar planet known as Proxima b has occupied a special place in the public mind ever since its existence was announced in August of 2016. As the closest exoplanet to our Solar System, its discovery has raised questions about the possibility of exploring it in the not-too-distant future. And even more tantalizing are the questions relating to its potential habitability.