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.
How chemical reactions on a lifeless planet floating around in the cold darkness of space can suddenly give rise to living organisms is one of the biggest questions in science. We don’t even know whether the molecular building blocks of life on Earth were created here or whether they were brought here by comets and meteorites.
The search for life elsewhere in the universe is one of the most compelling aspects of modern science. Given its scientific importance, significant resources are devoted to this young science of astrobiology, ranging from rovers on Mars to telescopic observations of planets orbiting other stars.
Decades after Enrico Fermi’s uttered his famous words – “Where is everybody?” – the Paradox that bears his name still haunts us. Despite repeated attempts to locate radio signals coming from space and our ongoing efforts to find visible indications of alien civilizations in distant star systems, the search extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) has yet to produce anything substantive.
In 2013, the European Space Agency launched the Gaia spacecraft. As the successor to the Hipparcos mission, this space observatory has spent the past three and a half years gathering data on the cosmos. Before it retires sometime next year (though the mission could be extended), this information will be used to construct the largest and most precise 3D astronomical map ever created.
The Universe is an extremely big place. As astronomers looked farther into space over the centuries, and deeper into the past, they came to understand just how small and insignificant our planet and our species seem by comparison. At the same time, ongoing investigations into electromagnetism and distant stars led scientists to deduce what the the speed of light is – and that it is the fastest speed obtainable.
NASA’s orbiter Cassini will make a series of decreasing orbits that will end in a fiery death dive into Saturn’s atmosphere in September. This deliberate termination of a still serviceable spacecraft is to comply with “planetary protection” protocols, designed to minimise the risk of depositing stowaway Earth microbes into an environment where they might be able to reproduce.
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.