Scientists aim to preserve donkeys, one frozen embryo at a time

Scientists aim to preserve donkeys, one frozen embryo at a time

In Ethiopia, Samuna’s three donkeys help her transport produce to market and to collect the water essential to her family, neighbours and livestock. Donkeys are more endangered than people realize, experts say.

The Donkey Sanctuary

Every day for a week in 2022, Andres Gambini, a veterinarian and senior lecturer in animal science at the University of Queensland in Australia, walked into his lab—and headed straight to the video camera. Trained on an array of about 50 donkey embryos, all created by Gambini’s manual in vitro fertilization, or IVF, the camera kept an eye on their developmental progress. To eventually create a viable embryo that could be implanted into a female donkey, the embryos’ cells had to keep dividing, first in two, then in four and so on.

But the embryos weren’t cooperating. Some would start splitting up only to stop a day or two later, and others wouldn’t start at all. Every day he came in, Gambini saw fewer and fewer dividing embryos, so he was losing faith in the effort. “You see many failed attempts and get disappointed,” he says.

Gambini and his team, a group of Argentinian and Spanish researchers, were working to create these embryos because many donkey populations around the world are declining. It may sound counterintuitive that domesticated animals may need preservation, but out of 28 European donkey breeds, 20 are endangered and seven are in critical status. It is partly because of the inbreeding that happened over the course of many years and partly because in today’s Western world donkeys aren’t really used anymore.

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Lina Zeldovich

Lina Zeldovich has written about science, medicine and technology for Popular Science, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, the New York Times and other major national and international publications. A Columbia J-School alumna, she has won several awards for her stories, including the ASJA Crisis Coverage Award for Covid reporting, and has been a contributing editor at Nautilus Magazine. In 2021, Zeldovich released her first book, The Other Dark Matter, published by the University of Chicago Press, about the science and business of turning waste into wealth and health. You can find her on http://linazeldovich.com/ and @linazeldovich.

Therapies for Healthy Aging with Dr. Alexandra Bause
Sabine van Erp / Pixabay

My guest today is Dr. Alexandra Bause, a biologist who has dedicated her career to advancing health, medicine and healthier human lifespans. Dr. Bause co-founded a company called Apollo Health Ventures in 2017. She is currently a venture partner at Apollo and immersed in the exciting work going on in Apollo’s Venture Lab.

The company is focused on assembling a team of investors to realize important scientific breakthroughs in the life sciences. Dr. Bause and Apollo Health Ventures say that biotech is at “an inflection point” and is set to become a major driver of change and economic value.


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Matt Fuchs
Matt Fuchs is the host of the Making Sense of Science podcast and served previously as the editor-in-chief of Leaps.org. He writes as a contributor to the Washington Post, and his articles have also appeared in the New York Times, WIRED, Nautilus Magazine, Fortune Magazine and TIME Magazine. Follow him @fuchswriter.
This man spent over 70 years in an iron lung. What he was able to accomplish is amazing.

Paul Alexander spent more than 70 years confined to an iron lung after a polio infection left him paralyzed at age 6. Here, Alexander uses a mirror attached to the top of his iron lung to view his surroundings.

Allison Smith / The Guardian

It’s a sight we don’t normally see these days: A man lying prone in a big, metal tube with his head sticking out of one end. But it wasn’t so long ago that this sight was unfortunately much more common.

In the first half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of people each year were infected by polio—a highly contagious virus that attacks nerves in the spinal cord and brainstem. Many people survived polio, but a small percentage of people who did were left permanently paralyzed from the virus, requiring support to help them breathe. This support, known as an “iron lung,” manually pulled oxygen in and out of a person’s lungs by changing the pressure inside the machine.

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Sarah Watts

Sarah Watts is a health and science writer based in Chicago.