At the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, an army of scientists armed with liquid nitrogen, microscopes and ultrasound scanners are working tirelessly to try to create an unprecedented first in the world of conservation.
These scientists are indeed looking to transform frozen rhino skin cells into baby rhinos. It’s not only the science that’s revolutionary, but also the team that’s trying to save this species.
Composed mainly of women, this laboratory is an exception in a field traditionally dominated by men.
The first step in this desire for conservation began in 1975, when scientists created the institute’s “frozen zoo”. In a small room, the skin cells of more than 10,000 individuals of 1,100 species are stored in tanks, frozen in liquid nitrogen.
Among this collection are the skin samples of 12 northern white rhinos. The complex task for these scientists is to create a rhino population from these samples. They must reprogram frozen skin cells into pluripotent stem cells. The objective is then to eventually transform the stem cells into sperm and ova.
But neither of the two female northern white rhinos can bear pregnancy. The last obstacle will therefore be to find an individual capable of carrying the embryos.