AboutZoos, Since 2008


Frozen Zoo col­lec­tion has same diver­sity as liv­ing pop­u­la­tion of white rhinos

pub­lished 28 Jan­u­ary 2017 | mod­i­fied 28 Jan­u­ary 2017

Northern White RhinocerosGenetic resources banked in the Frozen Zoo® hold key to recov­ery for Crit­i­cally Endan­gered north­ern white rhinoceros.

A study by San Diego Zoo Global reveals that the prospects for recov­ery of the Crit­i­cally Endan­gered north­ern white rhi­noc­eros — of which only three indi­vid­u­als remain — will reside with the genetic resources that have been banked at San Diego Zoo Global’s Frozen Zoo®. Frozen cell cul­tures housed here from nine north­ern white rhi­nos con­tain genetic vari­a­tion that is miss­ing in sur­viv­ing indi­vid­u­als of this sub­species of rhi­noc­eros, which is now extinct in the wild.

It would appear that the lev­els of genetic diver­sity of the north­ern white rhi­noc­eros pop­u­la­tion rep­re­sented by the viable cells banked in the Frozen Zoo is com­pa­ra­ble to that of the south­ern white rhi­noc­eros, which was able to recover from a severe genetic bottleneck
Tate Tun­stall, Ph.D., post­doc­toral fel­low, San Diego Zoo Insti­tute for Con­ser­va­tion Research »

Tun­stall, of the San Diego Zoo Insti­tute for Con­ser­va­tion Research — home to the Frozen Zoo — pre­sented new genomic data at the Plant and Ani­mal Genome Meet­ing (PAG XXV) in San Diego on Jan. 17, 2017, to eval­u­ate the extent of genetic diver­sity in the Frozen Zoo cell cul­tures with that of the related sub­species, the south­ern white rhinoceros.

Last Hope for Crti­cally Endan­gered rhino species:

(Source: San Diego Zoo Safari Park YouTube channel)

Tun­stall pre­sented the com­plete genome sequences of four south­ern white rhi­nos and nine north­ern white rhi­nos. Genome-​wide lev­els of genetic diver­sity and inbreed­ing in both south­ern and north­ern white rhi­nos were exam­ined, in the hope of aid­ing future efforts toward genetic res­cue and assisted repro­duc­tion. The recent pop­u­la­tion his­tory and demog­ra­phy of these two white rhino pop­u­la­tions also were exam­ined, and poten­tial regions under selec­tion were iden­ti­fied in the north­ern white rhino sug­gest­ing local adap­ta­tion in this pop­u­la­tion. This may be the first exam­ple of a prospec­tive analy­sis to deter­mine whether suf­fi­cient genetic diver­sity exists for pop­u­la­tion recov­ery of any endan­gered ani­mal. The south­ern white rhino expe­ri­enced a severe pop­u­la­tion decline due to over­hunt­ing in the early years of the 20th cen­tury. Through care­ful con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment, the sub­species recov­ered from a low of an esti­mated 30 to 100 indi­vid­u­als to a pop­u­la­tion in excess of 18,000 individuals.

Of the five rec­og­nized rhi­noc­eros species, the north­ern white rhino, the Javan rhino and the Suma­tran rhino are listed as Crit­i­cally Endan­gered; the black rhino is listed as Vul­ner­a­ble; and only one — the south­ern white rhino — is listed as Near Threat­ened on the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threat­ened Species.

(Source: San Diego Zoo Global news release via EurekAlert, 25.01.2017)

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