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Last of the Northern White Rhinoceroses, Sequenced

Researchers who hope to bring the northern white rhinoceros from the teetering edge of extinction — there are only two northern white rhinos left, both female and both in captivity — have sequenced the animal's genome, the New York Times reports.

A San Diego Zoo-led team sequenced the genomes of nine northern white rhinoceroses and four southern white rhinoceros rhinoceroses from cryobanked material. As they report in Genome Research this week, the researchers found the two rhino subspecies to be fairly closely related, having diverged less than 80,000 years ago. In addition, they noted that the northern white rhinos had fairly high levels of heterozygosity and low levels of inbreeding, as compared to southern white rhinos.

This suggested to the San Diego Zoo's Oliver Ryder, one of the study authors, that the right assisted reproduction or cloning approaches could be used to give the animals a second chance, the Times reports.

However, the Times notes that critics argue that such an effort and associated funds could be put to better use trying to conserve animals with a better chance of avoiding extinction. Critics additionally note that it'd be unlikely for any "resurrected" rhinos to return to the wild as their horns are in high demand by poachers.

The last male northern white rhinoceros died in March, according to the Times.