• Evaluating recovery potential of the northern white rhinoceros from cryopreserved somatic cells

      Tunstall, Tate S.; Kock, Richard; Vahala, Jiri; Diekhans, Mark; Fiddes, Ian; Armstrong, Joel; Paten, Benedikt; Ryder, Oliver A.; Steiner, Cynthia C. (2018)
      The critically endangered northern white rhinoceros is believed to be extinct in the wild, with the recent death of the last male leaving only two remaining individuals in captivity. Its extinction would appear inevitable, but the development of advanced cell and reproductive technologies such as cloning by nuclear transfer and the artificial production of gametes via stem cells differentiation offer a second chance for its survival. In this work, we analyzed genome-wide levels of genetic diversity, inbreeding, population history, and demography of the white rhinoceros sequenced from cryopreserved somatic cells, with the goal of informing how genetically valuable individuals could be used in future efforts toward the genetic rescue of the northern white rhinoceros. We present the first sequenced genomes of the northern white rhinoceros, which show relatively high levels of heterozygosity and an average genetic divergence of 0.1% compared with the southern subspecies. The two white rhinoceros subspecies appear to be closely related, with low genetic admixture and a divergent time <80,000 yr ago. Inbreeding, as measured by runs of homozygosity, appears slightly higher in the southern than the northern white rhinoceros. This work demonstrates the value of the northern white rhinoceros cryopreserved genetic material as a potential gene pool for saving this subspecies from extinction.