Animal skin cells converted into stem cells, suggesting way to save endangered species
In an effort to help preserve endangered rhinos and primates, biologists have converted skin cells taken from the animals into pluripotent stem cells, which can grow into nearly anything, given the right conditions. They might even grow into egg and sperm cells, eventually, the researchers think, suggesting a cell biological route to conservation.
The samples came from a repository at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research called the Frozen Zoo, where cells from 8600 animals of 800 species have been preserved. Using lab-grown viruses, the team inserted four genes that have been shown to make human cells revert to their pluripotent state into skin cells from the white rhino and the drill, a primate that’s one of the most endangered mammals in Africa. Over the course of a few weeks, a small fraction of the cells morphed into pluripotent stem cells, displaying markers on their surfaces that let researcher identify them.
There are only seven white rhinos left in the world; strategies like this may be the only hope for saving such critically endangered species.