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IVF - the way to save endangered species of animals

With all the buzz around fertility treatments and rapidly growing IVF therapies, it’s sometimes hard to remember that humans aren’t the only species who struggle with infertility. When we hear about different species of animals going extinct, fertility problems are almost never thought of as a main concern. Rather, poaching, global warming, and disease are blamed. However, fertility treatments and knowledge that is pioneered in relation to human medicine is increasingly being used to save endangered, near-extinct species of animals.

Zoo and wildlife experts at zoos and field bases around the world have been using methods to preserve fertility and treat infertility with animals. One example of this, is microsurgeries performed on species like chimpanzees, gorillas, South American bush dogs, Mexican wolves, orangutans, Mongolian wild horses, and more. The National Zoo in Washington D.C., the San Diego Zoo, the St. Louis Zoo, and the Pittsburgh Zoo are a few leaders in the area.

The experts and veterinarians exploring the field have successfully frozen ovaries from animals who are at risk of going extinct in hopes that ovary transplantation in similar species may spark a comeback. They have even found a way to freeze fish and frog eggs for nearly-extinct species. This was something previously unheard of. The experts have also performed IVF treatments and gestational surrogacy on orangutans to help improve their ability to raise their own babies.

Much of the research leading up to these breakthroughs revolved around the study of dinosaurs and what caused them to go extinct. One way that the fertility researchers and paleontologists collaborated was through an examination of the X and Y chromosomes. Scientists believe that part of the problem causing species to go extinct for reasons of fertility is partially due to unstable development of the sex chromosomes.

For example, when reptiles have intercourse, the eggs that are laid do not have a specified gender based on X or Y chromosomes. In fact, the sex of the baby is determined by the temperature at which its egg is incubated. As you might imagine, this can lead to many problems. However, unstable sex determining genes are also often unstable in animal species who are on the brink of extinction. Researchers examined why this trait is unique, primarily amongst reptiles, while humans and mammals have sex determining chromosomes present from the very beginning. They asked, why would sex chromosomes like X and Y evolve in the first place if they negatively impact fertility? The reason is assuring a balanced, approximately 50:50 ratio of males to females in the population. If temperature alone were the biggest factor in determining the sex of all animal and human offspring, the population could be vastly skewed by environmental factors. A long bout of global warming or cooling for example, could leave all males behind, therefore causing the species to go extinct. To avoid this problem, most species have the sex determining chromosomes present in their offspring, just like humans.

Thanks to the hard work of fertility researchers, veterinarians, and zoo and wildlife experts, we are bringing all life on the planet closer together. Although fertility treatments are developed, and will always be developed, for humans, they also benefit our four-legged friends and the many diverse species that dot the globe. Preserving human fertility for individuals and society as a whole goes hand in hand with the preservation of wildlife species around the world.

 

01.03.2019

Based on Nature

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