Induced pluripotent stem cells show promise to revive wildlife species

Recently published in the leading scientific journal, Stem Cells, and Development, a new article shares a significant development in conservation—one that may make the difference between extinction and survival for wildlife species that have been decreased to very insignificant population sizes.

Pluripotent Stem Cells

Pluripotent Stem Cells. Image Credit: Mesa Studios/

Researchers used fibroblast cells that have been maintained in San Diego Zoo Global’s Frozen Zoo® and successfully produced induced pluripotent stem cells of southern and northern white rhinoceroses. This significant advancement is the first step in an intricate process for producing gametes from non-reproductive and deceased individuals of both these subspecies.

For the northern white rhino, which is functionally extinct, the only hope for survival may be in the creation of gametes from cells that were frozen in our labs decades ago. What we have just done is taken the first step towards being able to bring this subspecies back to life.”

Marisa Korody, PhD, Study Lead Author and Northern White Rhino Genetics Scientist, San Diego Zoo Global

San Diego Zoo Global holds fibroblast cell lines obtained from 12 separate northern white rhinos maintained in its Frozen Zoo®. It is believed that the genetic diversity in these frozen specimens may be sufficient to bring the species back from the edge of extinction using this latest breakthrough.

But investigators pointed out that this developing technology can only be employed if the living cells from seriously endangered wildlife species are rescued for the days to come.

When Dr. (Kurt) Benirschke created the Frozen Zoo more than 40 years ago, we did not know how important it might be for the future. As species are placed increasingly at risk, we now recognize that what we have may be the key to saving these species. However, we will not be able to offer this technology unless we have saved cell lines the way we did with the northern white rhino.”

Oliver Ryder, PhD, Director of Conservation Genetics, San Diego Zoo Global

Journal reference:

Korody, M. L., et al. (2021) Rewinding Extinction in the Northern White Rhinoceros: Genetically Diverse Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Bank for Genetic Rescue. Stem Cells and Development.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AZoLifeSciences.
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