Biotechnology May Offer Endangered Wildlife a Second Chance

 

The Haute-Touche laboratory, founded in 2001 in France, has a mission to use biotechnology to conserve critically endangered species within the country. Headed by biologist, Yann Locatelli, The Haute-Touche laboratory is the only reserve authorized to carry out such experiments.

 

The number of endangered (and critically endangered) species continues to grow staggeringly year over year, and has been doing so for decades.  The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria has been attempting to counteract this crisis for over 4 decades. They’ve implemented breeding programs that would,  in theory, be able to create enough members of the endangered species to maintain (if not increase) their numbers. But breeding programs are not a quick fix.  Breeding of animals is a difficult process in and of itself. When coupled with the lower number of specimens of an endangered species, it becomes an even more difficult task. Success rates and timing become a huge issue.

 

Yann Locatelli believes that supplementing the breeding program with reproductive biotechnology may be the answer to the endangerment problem. It’s an unconventional way of thinking, but Locatelli believes that using an in-vitro fertilization process similar to that of the processes used in stock breeding and human medicine may produce faster and more meaningful results. The biologists would harvest reproductive cells (eggs & sperm) from the endangered species they are looking to breed, develop embryos, and implant them in the females. It’s not an easy process though; as one could guess, each species has a different reproductive system and cycle and it is difficult and time consuming to reproduce the specific cryogenics process required for each animal.

 

There is an additional level of difficulty that Locatelli and his team face with the breeding program. After the successful implantation of the embryo and a successful live birth, there is still the question of whether or not the artificially implanted baby will survive. Locatelli’s team has seen two very different outcomes within the same species of animal (the Manchurian Sika deer). In one case, the fawn born of the surrogacy thrived; there were no noticeable differences, and the fawn was eventually lost in the herd. But, a second case did not go as well. The mother refused to take to the fawn, and the fawn did not make it.

 

There is still a lot to be done in terms of behavior research. But, Locatelli is not letting these setbacks deter him. He has full faith in this program and believes that they will be able to change the path towards critical endangerment for several species in the future.

To see the article that inspired this post, click here.