May 20, 2024

Saving the Sumatran Rhino: A Second Chance for the World’s Most Ancient Rhino Species

By Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medication in the Helmholtz Association
January 2, 2023

Pictured here is a one-month-old brain organoid of a rhinoceros. In this tiny cross-sectional image, progenitor cells of neurons can be seen in red. Totally developed nerve cells are colored green. Credit: Silke Frahm-Barske, Max Delbrück
In the scientific journal iScience, the group led by very first author Zywitza and last author Diecke has now reported a preliminary success: they have created caused pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells for brief, from Kertams skin samples. These cells have 2 crucial advantages. They are able to divide considerably and for that reason never die; and 2nd, they are able to transform into any cell type in the body. For their just recently published study, the group has already grown brain organoids, likewise called “mini-brains,” from Kertams iPS cells.
Learning from the white rhino
The innovation platform developed its stem cell innovations as part of the BioRescue research task for the even more critically threatened northern white rhinoceros– of which just 2 women now remain, residing in a Kenyan wildlife reserve. “Our present study has actually benefited a lot from the knowledge gained through this large-scale job, which is moneyed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research,” says Zywitza. Professor Thomas Hildebrandt, head of the Reproduction Management Department at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, and his research study group were likewise significantly associated with the task.
Zywitza states how all those associated with the existing study were surprised and happy to find that the methods used to turn the skin cells of northern white rhinos into stem cells also worked well with the cells of Sumatran rhinos. Under the microscopic lense, the stem cells of both rhino species were barely appreciable from human iPS cells. Nevertheless, there were species-specific differences: “In contrast to northern white rhino iPS cells, Kertams iPSCs might not be cultivated without feeder cells, which release development factors that help to keep stem cells in a pluripotent state,” discusses Zywitza.
A much deeper check out evolution
In addition to maintaining the species, the stem cells gotten from Kertams skin might serve another purpose: “iPS cells from exotic animals offer a distinct tool to acquire insights into the development of organ development,” states Zywitza. To show this, Dr. Silke Frahm-Barske, who is likewise a scientist in Dieckes research group, grew brain organoids from the cells
” To the very best of our knowledge, mini-brains like these have actually just been obtained from mouse, human, and non-human primates so far,” states Frahm-Barske. “So we were very happy to see that the stem cells we created from the Sumatran rhino formed organoids rather similar to those of humans.” However, she added that the team needed to deal with the human and rhino iPS cells a little differently in order to produce the brain organoids.
The next action is sperm cells.
The teams next goal is to use Kertams iPS cells to grow sperm suitable for synthetic insemination. “This step is more challenging,” states Zywitza. “To acquire sperm cells, we initially require to use the iPS cells to cultivate prehistoric bacterium cells– the precursors of eggs and sperm.” This is the tricky job the scientists are now going to take on. They likewise prepare to obtain iPS cells from other Sumatran rhinos.
Reproduction expert Thomas Hildebrandt describes why efforts like these are necessary: “Measures are indeed being taken in Indonesia to maintain the Sumatran rhino population by uniting the remaining people in wildlife reserves,” he says. “But women that have not been pregnant for a very long time frequently become infertile, for example, due to cysts that develop on their reproductive organs, or they may just be too old to bear young.”
” Even though our work is trying to make the relatively difficult possible– i.e., to make sure the survival of animals that would otherwise probably vanish from our world– it needs to stay an exception and not end up being the guideline,” highlights Zywitza. “Despite all the buzz around what we are doing in the lab, this can at finest make a little contribution to saving these rhinos from termination. The security and preservation of the animals few staying habitats is at least equally essential.”
Reference: “Induced pluripotent stem cells and cerebral organoids from the seriously threatened Sumatran rhinoceros” by Vera Zywitza, Silke Frahm, Norman Krüger, Anja Weise, Frank Göritz, Robert Hermes, Susanne Holtze, Silvia Colleoni, Cesare Galli, Micha Drukker, Thomas B. Hildebrandt and Sebastian Diecke, 18 November 2022, iScience.DOI: 10.1016/ j.isci.2022.105414.

Sumatran rhino Kertam on the island of Borneo. Credit: Ben Jastram, Leibniz-IZW
In an effort to save the endangered Sumatran rhino species from extinction, a team from the Max Delbrück Center has actually successfully grown stem cells and mini-brains from the skin cells of Kertam, the last male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia who died in 2019. The groups objective is to utilize these cells to produce sperm cells for reproductive efforts.
The Sumatran rhinoceros, the worlds tiniest and most ancient rhino types, was when extensively dispersed throughout East and Southeast Asia. Poaching and environment damage have actually severely minimized the population, with just a few dozen people staying in the rainforests of Sumatra and the Indonesian portion of Borneo. The rarity of these staying individuals makes mating encounters significantly scarce, adding to the species endangered status.
The last of their kind in Malaysia
A group of Berlin researchers led by Dr. Vera Zywitza and Dr. Sebastian Diecke, head of the Pluripotent Stem Cells Platform at the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin, are not content with this. They and their international partners have an enthusiastic goal: to turn skin cells taken from now-deceased Sumatran rhinos into stem cells, from which they can then derive egg and sperm cells to be used in assisted recreation– in this case, fertilization in the lab.

They and their international partners have an ambitious objective: to turn skin cells taken from now-deceased Sumatran rhinos into stem cells, from which they can then obtain egg and sperm cells to be used in assisted recreation– in this case, fertilization in the laboratory. In the scientific journal iScience, the group led by first author Zywitza and last author Diecke has actually now reported a preliminary success: they have generated caused pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells for short, from Kertams skin samples. Zywitza states how all those included in the present research study were surprised and pleased to find that the methods used to turn the skin cells of northern white rhinos into stem cells likewise worked well with the cells of Sumatran rhinos. Under the microscopic lense, the stem cells of both rhino species were barely appreciable from human iPS cells. There were species-specific distinctions: “In contrast to northern white rhino iPS cells, Kertams iPSCs could not be cultivated without feeder cells, which launch development factors that assist to keep stem cells in a pluripotent state,” explains Zywitza.