Cloning Could Save Endangered Giant Pandas, Researchers Say
In an attempt to save giant pandas from extinction, scientists plan to clone Tian Tian and Yang Guang who currently reside at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. The same experts who cloned Dolly the sheep have already taken tissue samples from the giant pandas in order to grow more cells.
Currently, there are only about 2,000 giant pandas left, either in the wild or captivity. This cloning project is the first step in making genetic copies of the endangered animals and follows a failed attempt to artificially inseminate Tian Tian in March.
"The fact that you can grow cells is a step on the way," Dr. Bill Ritchie, one of the experts from the biotechnology firm Roslin Embryology who helped create Dolly, told the Daily Mail. "This may be a source for a cloning project. People are wary about cloning and would rather go with conventional methods, but pandas are an anomaly because of their lifestyle. This is a step in bringing back an endangered species or helping preserve them."
This new project has been made possible after finding rare "multipotent progenitor cells," located in the panda's cheek. These cells are similar to stem cells and can be grown into specialized cells such as muscles or nerves, according to the Daily Mail.
However, conservationists warn that this is not a long-term solution to ecological challenges and that cloned animals often suffer health problems growing up, according to the Independent. Dolly, for example, had to be euthanized at the age of six because of health problems.
The pandas originally came from the Ya'an reserve in Chengdu, the capital of southwest China's Sichuan province. They are actually on loan to Edinburgh Zoo, so any cubs born to Tian Tian would be sent back to China after two years, according to BBC.
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