Scientists successfully crowdfund black rhino genome project

14 Jul 2015

Ntombi, a black rhino, via R Prehn

Ntombi, one of just 5,055 black rhinos alive on Earth, is going to have her genome sequenced after a bunch of scientists raised more than US$17,000 online.

In a bid to better understand a species that has almost vanished in a little over a century – in 1900 there were hundreds of thousands – Dr Chuck Murry and his team raised funding via science platform Experiment.

Murry feels that successfully obtaining the raw sequence of black rhinos will allow conservationists to “gain insights into the dynamics” of the endangered animal.

Poaching has almost eliminated black rhinos completely, however Murry, of the University of Washington, hopes this is the first step towards building a future for the species.

“The data from this project will be used to create a biobank of genomic data for the remaining eight subspecies of black rhino,” the team’s Experiment page said.

“Three are already extinct. We intend to use this project as a catalyst to sequence all subspecies of black rhino and understand the genetic divergence within and between rhino species.”

The animals have been on the scientific radar a bit over the last few days, with the recent news of Pembient bio-engineereing a rhino horn leading many to hope it brings about an end to poaching.

“We are sticking true to the science and we are focused on preventing the harming of wildlife by jumping ahead into the future and getting materials from a lab rather than messing with the environment,” said Matthew Markus, Pembient’s CEO.

Ntombi, black rhino via R Prehn

Ntombi, a black rhino, via R Prehn

In this instance, however, Murry and his team are approaching conservation from a different angle. They want to get the raw sequence of Ntombi and align it with existing southern white rhino genome.

Subsequently a fully annotated version of the black rhino genome will be published.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic