With Sabah Wildlife Department Universiti Malaysia Sabah – gametes, embryos, cryopreservation

Focal Area 6


Once dead, the genomes of numerous endangered animals are being lost forever. Technology exists to preserve them alive. In the future, wildlife biologists and governments will thank the pioneers who started collections of cells preserved forever in liquid nitrogen.

In vitro fertilization and embryo transfer into healthy females is done routinely in some livestock species (as well as in humans) but not, so far, for wildlife. Culture of living mammal cells is routine in some laboratories. It is now technically possible to create gametes (sperm and egg cells) from mammal somatic cell cultures, and to create embryos. Gametes, embryos and cell cultures can be preserved indefinitely in liquid nitrogen. It is better - sooner rather than later - to establish a programme to maintain gametes and cultures of the cells of all individuals of endangered species from which samples can be taken before they die. This approach represents as long term strategy, and assumes that some species may be wiped out or very nearly so due to human population growth, excessive use of natural resources and global heating effects. Future reproductive technologies will be significantly more advanced than those available at present.

Challenges: outside USA, there is no established system in place to preserve the living genomes or embryos of the last individuals of very endangered species; sustained interest and funding to proceed with advanced reproductive technology in Malaysia is not guaranteed; some wildlife biologists remain negative on this approach, believing that it will not only distract attention from traditional approaches but might never be of any value.

Examples that might be helpful : Reproductive Innovation Centre for Wildlife and Livestock (RICWL) has been established in Faculty of Sustainable Agriculture, Universiti Malaysia Sabah in Sandakan, and has a collection of cryopreserved gametes of several endangered wildlife species. International Islamic University Malaysia, Pahang, maintains living cell cultures of the last three Malaysian Sumatran rhinos. It will be a relatively simple matter to take semen samples from the 33 living male Malayan tigers currently in captivity in Malaysia, and cryo-preserve samples in liquid nitrogen; if egg cells are also taken from female tigers, embryos could be made and cryopreserved; tiger lifespan is normally 20 years maximum; under present circumstances, most will die without mating, and their genomes lost forever; however, the first step should be to determine the genetic relatedness of each captive Malaysian tiger.

Possible treatment : maintain cryo-preserved materials in current facilities for potential future opportunities; engage with facilities that house Malayan tigers (and other endangered species) outside Malaysia in order to widen the available gene pool. BORA was contracted from 2016 to 2020 by Sabah Wildlife Department to develop Sabah’s advanced (assisted) reproductive technology programme for endangered wildlife.


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