A test-tube rhinoceros

Not a day seems to go by without stories of our planet¿s demise. But it¿s not all bad news for some of the Earth¿s dwindling species.

Not a day seems to go by without stories of our planet's demise. Icebergs are melting, sea levels are rising, and more and more species face extinction. But there has a bit of good news for some of the Earth's dwindling species.

As reported in the science journal Nature Methods, Jeanne Loring, a stem-cell biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and Oliver Ryder, a scientist at the San Diego Zoo, have succeeded in collecting stem cells from endangered animals without breaking ethical rules.

Thanks to these new methods, the northern white rhino and the drill monkey have become the first endangered species that have had their cells transformed into stem cells like those found in early embryos. Millions of these cells can be cultivated from the original specimen. The future of captive breeding programmes - test-tube rhinos - has arrived.

The way the planet is going, there is a serious danger that the white rhinoceros could go the way of the dodo and dinosaurs. Future generations may experience animals that we take for granted only through history exhibitions and Disney films. What's next, elephants? Tigers? Bees? In fact, if bees go, so does a lot of agricultural - and so do a lot of us.

Not if these California scientists, and their modern-day Noah's Ark project, have anything to do about it.

Published: September 7, 2011 04:00 AM