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Frozen Lion Semen Gives Hope to Big Cat Conservation

Feb 09, 2015 03:53 PM EST
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Worried about the fate of big cats around the world? Researchers have now revealed that many endangered species may find salvation from an unlikely source - that being frozen semen.
(Photo : Jennifer Zahmel/ IZW)

Worried about the fate of big cats around the world? Researchers have now revealed that many endangered species may find salvation from an unlikely source - that being frozen semen.

According to a study recently published in the journal Theriogenology, researchers from Berlin have successfully created embryos from African lions via assisted lab-side reproduction.

Amazingly, unlike most "test-tube" reproductive cases, the researchers didn't simply use fresh sperm and healthy egg cells taken straight out of a pair of healthy adults. Instead they used immature egg cells from a young lioness and the frozen sperm of an African lion which had been stored in a cryobank for some time.

The study details how the undeveloped eggs were artificially matured in a lab, and then were injected with the thawed lion sperm as a proof-of-concept experiment. What they found was that a healthy embryo could still develop, progressing only slightly slower compared to similar examples of the work done with simple domestic cat cells.

Katarina Jewgenow, head of the reproduction biology department at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), explained in a recent statement that this is important work because many current breeding programs designed to preserve rare and large mammal species have been unsuccessful. The last five northern white rhinos in the world, for instance, have all failed to reproduce despite numerous captive breeding programs and approaches.

And while white rhinos are a bit different than African lions, this latest success shows that if we preserve their sperm, we could potentially bring a subspecies back on the advent of its extinction.

It could also help halt that extinction in the first place.

"Genome resource banks can help to solve various problems in captive breeding programs," explained Jennifer Zahmel, who was part of the research team.

She said that this success implies that captive breeding programs could simply ship sperm and eggs alone rather than whole animals, reducing stress factors or the risk of transmitting diseases among some of the rarest species in the world.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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