Australia (Commonwealth Union) – The application of modern technology to life science in re-introducing endangered or extinct species back into their ecosphere may have seemed like science fiction in the past, but now it looks more and realistic. A University of Queensland (UQ) led study group has produced the world’s first successful donkey embryo applying in-vitro fertilization (IVF), possibly saving many endangered donkey species.
Producing a viable donkey embryo was a tough task, however UQ’s Dr Andres Gambini, who joined hands with Argentinian and Spanish scientists, made it a reality by applying the specialist IVF process, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). The very first donkey embryo, from an endangered European breed, is presently frozen in liquid nitrogen as scientists find a suitable female to carry out implantation.
Dr Gambini stated that the success paved the way for helping donkeys as well as other species that may also face extinction, by forming a ‘frozen zoo’ or genetic bank of embryos and also said that the new tool to form embryos in the laboratory, can assist in repopulating a species if needed. “There are many problems associated with inbreeding when trying to increase a species’ population, but this IVF technique means we can essentially combine semen and eggs from donkeys with a different genetic background and create viable embryos,” he said.
Dr Gambini, joined hands with National University of Río Cuarto PhD student Ana Flores Bragulat for the project, stating that donkey populations are more endangered than assumed and further stated that seven of the 28 European domestic breeds are critical, while 20 are endangered and wild donkey species face issues as well. “There are also concerns about wild donkeys around the world being killed for ‘ejiao’, a key ingredient in traditional Chinese remedies produced from collagen in donkeys’ skin,” he added.
The study also highlights the vulnerability of many donkey species whose exploitation has decreased numbers.