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Meet Olaf! The world's first toad hatched using IVF from frozen semen


Meet Olaf! The world’s first critically endangered toad hatched using IVF from frozen semen

  • Olaf is the first toad to have been hatched from in-vitro fertilization 
  • Researchers used two eggs from captive toads and sperm from those in the wild 
  • Puerto Rican crested toads have been critically endangered since 1987 

The Puerto Rican crested toad has been critically endangered for over 30 years and was once thought to have gone extinct.

However, researchers have performed a first-ever procedure that could save the species – they successfully hatched a toad via in-vitro fertilization.

Named Olaf, this toadlet weighs just six grams and was born using the eggs from two females in captivity and frozen semen from six wild males.

Olaf was hatched at the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas, in collaboration with Mississippi State University (MSU).

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The Puerto Rican crested toad has been critically endangered for over 30 years and was once thought to have gone extinct. However, researchers have performed a first-ever procedure that could save the species – they successfully hatched a toad via in-vitro fertilization

The Puerto Rican crested toad has been critically endangered for over 30 years and was once thought to have gone extinct. However, researchers have performed a first-ever procedure that could save the species – they successfully hatched a toad via in-vitro fertilization

‘We have been working with researchers from MSU to develop hormone therapies and artificial reproduction techniques for several years,’ a spokesperson from the Fort Worth Zoo told DailyMail.com in an email.

‘Now that we have been successful in fertilizing eggs using frozen wild semen, we will continue to perfect methodologies to collect additional semen from wild toads and create a genome bank for the species.’ 

The Puerto Rican crested toad was described in 1868 and once flourished in Puerto Rico and Virgin Gorda.

However, due to habitat loss and the introduction of other species, its numbers began to dwindle and was listed as Threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1987 and Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

A few years after, a reintroduction program began with over 3,400 toads released from four institutions – Fort Worth Zoo being one of them.

Since 1992, over 510,000 captive hatched tadpoles have been reintroduced onto the island from over 20 zoos in the United States and Canada – the Fort Worth Zoo alone has released 70,988 of those tadpoles. 

Named Olaf, this toadlet weighs just six grams and was born using the eggs from two females in captivity and frozen semen from six wild males. Olaf was hatched at the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas , in collaboration with Mississippi State University (MSU)

Named Olaf, this toadlet weighs just six grams and was born using the eggs from two females in captivity and frozen semen from six wild males. Olaf was hatched at the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas , in collaboration with Mississippi State University (MSU)

However, Olaf is the first to be born using IVF and because he was conceived utilizing frozen semen, the researchers decided to celebrate this conservation success by naming him after Disney’s Frozen character – Olaf, the snowman. 

‘In-vitro fertilization on amphibians is a growing practice, however this is the first time it has been done successfully utilizing sperm of a wild Puerto Rican crested toad without removing this animal from the wild,’ the spokesperson explained.

‘This is significant as it will allow us to expand the population genetics used to increase the overall population of this critically endangered animal, while keeping the toads in their natural habitat and preserving biological material for future assisted reproduction efforts.’ 

The team gathered two eggs from female Puerto Rican crested toads in captivity and the semen from six males living in the wild.

‘This is a significant advancement for the critically endangered species as it will allow zoos, researchers and other conservationists to expand their population genetics used to increase the overall population while keeping the toads in their wild, natural habitat,’ a PR person for Fort Worth Zoo said in a statement.

‘These ART efforts will help maintain a genetically diverse, self-sustaining population of toads in the managed population without removing animals from the wild!’

Since 2006, Zoo staff has coordinated and managed a Puerto Rican Crested Toad conservation program, under the direction of Fort Worth Zoo Curator of Ectotherms Diane Barber.

And the team has been able to release thousands of these toads into the wild each year. 

The zoo noted that Olaf is  ‘growing and doing quite well’. 

‘Additional toadlets from this research were distributed to other facilities that participate in breeding efforts and about 200 more will be released in Puerto Rico next month.’ 



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