Stem cells give hope for rare species


Scientists have taken the first tentative steps towards conserving some of the world's most endangered species with the help of stem-cell technology, which could lead to the generation of sperm and eggs from skin cells.

Oliver Ryder, the director of genetics at San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research, said he and his colleagues had generated stem cells – which are capable of developing into specialised cells such as sperm and eggs – of two endangered species from samples of their skin.

The idea is that the approach could be used to generate sperm and eggs from a "frozen zoo" of skin samples taken from more than 800 species.

The San Diego scientists used a technique called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) to convert specialised skin cells into unspecialised stem cells. The next stage is to convert the stem cells into viable sperm and eggs which could then be used to boost genetic diversity in wild populations.

The study was published in the journal Nature Methods.