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Crowdfunding Campaign Aims To Resurrect Black Rhino Via Genome Sequencing

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The endangered black rhinoceros may be brought back from extinction. Thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, genome sequencing in black rhinos is made possible.

The science funding platform Experiment is known for supporting open research projects. On July 11, the campaign researchers at the University of Washington finally reached more than its target of $15,000 through this platform.

The fund raised is enough for the team's needed Illumina HiSeq kit which will enable them to map the genome sequence of a black rhinoceros.

Out of about the only remaining 5,055 black rhinos in the world, the team will focus on sequencing the genetic code of the six-year-old rhino Ntombi. Out of eight original subspecies, three have been poached to extinction and the five remaining subspecies are endangered. These species which have existed for more than 50 million years now have played an important role in our ecosystem. The team believes that with their genome sequencing project, the black rhino will be better studied and understood.

The team is pursuing not only to genetically engineer the DNA the extinct subspecies, but also to eventually reintroduce certain subspecies. According to lead researcher Dr. Chuck Murry and director for the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Washington, this is a much more ambitious goal.

"It's best to think of that as aspirational at this point, but nothing great starts without a dream," adds Murry.

A white rhino subspecies, the northern white rhinoceros, inspired the team to bring back the black rhino. With just five northern white rhinos left in the world, the subspecies will soon be extinct. Murry says that since the northern white rhino is as good as gone, the 5,055 black rhino population at this point provides a larger gene pool to study and maintain.

Although the resurrection of the endangered black rhinoceros may not happen any time soon, Murry's team's project would be the first big step to get to it. Basically, the project aims to gather as much genomic data as possible for all the eight subspecies, even when three are already extinct.

Genomic data gathered could also provide insight on the black rhino's horn, and allow scientists to manufacture them synthetically.

In Africa, 96 percent of black rhinos were poached from 1970 to 1992, per the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF).

Murry further says that their intention is to make their project a catalyst in sequencing all subspecies of the black rhino. They aim to further understand the divergence with and among rhino species.

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