How artificial reproductive technology is saving endangered species
Some Background basics:
Genetic lineages for endangered species are vital for maintaining healthy populations. With increasing human populations and decreasing viable habitats for wildlife; conservationists are faced with the task of finding new ways of helping save endangered species. ART (artificial reproductive technology) is becoming a more integral part of species management plans.
ART ranges from the simple (e.g. faecal hormone analysis to monitor oestrous cycles) to an array of more difficult technologies ( e.g. artificial insemination (AI), embryo transfer, cloning) [Penfold, 2011]. All technologies are dependent on adequate storage of biological materials. The most successful storage method used today is cryobanking.
Cryobanking (i.e. the preservation of biological materials at very low temperatures for use in reproductive technology [YD, 2012]), was first developed way back in 1949 for use in the livestock industry. As the technology advanced, it was utilized for human reproduction, with the first human cryobank opening in the United States in the early 1970s.
Preserving tissue requires blocking intracellular functions, while maintaining the physiochemical structure of the cell. Decreasing temperature slows down cellular activity and eventually stops it entirely (CBS, 2012). Cryopreservation for non-domestic animal species is still considered to be emerging due to the fact that they are not widely practiced; there is limited knowledge of the reproductive biology of many species and few have been tested (Pukazhenthi, et. al., 2006).
So how is it used today? [Two examples].
1. White Oak Conservation Center, located in Yulee, FL, has spent the last 12 years working on ART techniques in order to avoid transportation of live animals. Their main focus has been on the Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri walleri), an understudied species of Antelope as a model for other endangered antelope. Their efforts with AI have resulted in four live births out of six attempts (Penfold, 2011). You can read a detailed report of the processes used to accomplish this by referring to the reference list below.
2. Scientists at Monash University have had a scientific breakthrough and are the first to produce pluripotent stem cells (PSC) from tissue of an adult snow leopard (uncia uncia). PSCs share many of the useful properties of embryonic stem cells. Researchers have generated these cells from ear tissue samples (SD, 2012).
Obtaining reproductive cells from live animals (both captive and wild) is very difficult. This research is the first step to producing live offspring in these endangered cats (SD, 2012). Read the full account by using the reference article below.
References: (in no particular citation style)
CBS (Cryo Bio Systems), 2012. Online. Available at: http://www.cryobiosystem-imv.com/Portals/3/PDF/Monograph.pdf [Accessed on 4/11/2012].
Penfold, L.M., 2011. An overview of the assisted reproduction and genome banking activities of White Oak Conservation Center, Yulee, FL, in the service of species conservation. International Zoo Yearbook. V. 45. Pp.154-159.
Pukazhenthi, B., Cinuzzoli, P., Travis, A., and Wildt, D., 2006. Applications of emerging technologies to the study of conservation of threatened and endangered species. Reproduction, Fertility and Development. V. 18. Pp.77-90. Online. Available from Science Direct. [Accessed on 4/11/2012].
R. Verma, M.K. Holland, P. Temple-Smith, P.J. Verma. Inducing pluripotency in somatic cells from the snow leopard (Panthera uncia), an endangered felid. Theriogenology, 2012; 77 (1): 220 DOI: 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2011.09.022
Your Dictionary, 2012. Online. Available at: http://medical.yourdictionary.com/cryobank Accessed on 4/11/2012.
Image credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Uncia_uncia.jpg