22 June 1999

Scientists Clone Giant Panda

Using the latest cloning technology and techniques, Chinese scientists have produced an embryo of the giant panda. And they claim that this development could go some way to restoring the numbers of the threatened species.

However, these claims have been disputed by The World Wide Fund for Nature, who said cloning would not save the panda from extinction and may instead detract from efforts to help it survive.

The China Daily said scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences had introduced cells of a dead female panda into the egg cells of a Japanese white rabbit and the embryo was nurtured successfully. If the embryo was not rejected after being placed in the womb of a host animal, the world's first cloned panda would be created.

The giant panda is unique to China. Only about 1, 000 now live in the wild and 100 in captivity. The animal has a very low reproduction rate, and experts say it could be extinct within 10 years.

"We recognize the potential scientific merit of recent cloning work but, unfortunately, this will not help save the panda from extinction,'' said David Melville, executive director of WWF Hong Kong.

"The continued survival of the panda is threatened by the destruction of its habitat - no amount of tinkering in laboratories will help reduce this threat, which is paramount,'' he said.

"We are concerned that high-profile laboratory studies will distract attention from the real conservation issues.''

The body cells the Chinese scientists used for cloning were from the bone muscle, womb epidermis and mammary gland. Experiments showed the mammary cells achieved the best bond with the egg cells of the rabbit.

DNA analysis indicated the genetic characteristics of the embryo were the same as those of the panda's non-reproductive body cells.