Home>News Center>Life

China announces gene bank to clone pandas
Updated: 2004-08-31 13:47

Chinese veterinarians have tried everything to stir lust in captive giant pandas - from showing them "panda porn" to providing stuffed models so that males could hone their seduction techniques.

Giant panda Mei Xiang is seen napping at U.S. National Zoo. [AP]
On Monday, in a new bid to protect its national symbol, China said it had built the world's biggest panda-gene bank as a repository of cells for use in cloning the animal.

Cells from 21 living pandas and five dead ones are preserved in the gene bank, in the southwestern city of Chengdu in Sichuan province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Scientists hope to expand the bank to include cell samples of all 161 pandas living in special reserves around China, it said.

When geneticists might succeed in cloning the giant panda is unclear. Efforts have been under way since 1998, but have met repeated setbacks. Scientists worldwide have been debating whether cloning can be an effective conservation technique for rescuing endangered species.

Xinhua dismissed that debate, saying, "Scientists say successful cloning of the giant panda would be a significant step toward saving the endangered species from extinction."

But one China-based environmental expert, James Harkness, the head of World Wildlife Fund China, said his organization didn't think cloning was "a particularly useful tool."

"We don't believe it will do much to help panda conservation," Harkness said. "The biggest threat to pandas is loss of habitat." He said the cloning process had a "very high failure rate." Even if a giant panda were cloned, it would be a copy of an existing animal, which wouldn't enrich the gene pool of the threatened species, he said.

Giant pandas once roamed much of China and northern Vietnam, feasting in abundant bamboo forests. But humans have slashed their habitat, pushing them deeper into mountainous areas of southwest China near Tibet.

The population of giant pandas in the wild is now thought to be around 1,700, and their ability to survive is declining because of inbreeding, Xinhua said.

Giant pandas have notoriously low libidos, frustrating scientific efforts to increase the captive population. Female pandas are fertile just a few days a year, always in the spring. When males approach, they are often rebuffed.

Earlier this year, Chinese veterinarians at the Wolong Giant Panda Protection Research Center in Sichuan showed videos of mating giant pandas to Hua Mei, a 4-year-old panda who'd recently arrived from San Diego. The veterinarians said other giant pandas had mated after watching the videos. Hua Mei - her name means "China America" - subsequently became pregnant, according to Chinese media reports.

On other occasions at the research station, males have been given stuffed models of females to practice on - only to tear up the models.

China has met with repeated failure in the six years since it began trying to clone giant pandas. Scientists have implanted cloned panda embryos in rabbits and cats, but failed to bring about gestation. More recently, scientists said they were seeking a better surrogate, perhaps a bear, to carry a cloned embryo.

Creation of the giant panda gene bank is a sign that the cloning program remains in full swing.

Gong Li portarys Chinese version of 'Cold Mountain'
Paris Hilton to publish 198-page memoir
Chinese 'sorcerer' kills 10 then sells bodies
  Today's Top News     Top Life News

Money can't buy happiness, as saying goes



Wen calls for support of non-State business



Six overseas diplomas not recognized



Beijing to upgrade subway lines, systems



China trying to diversify energy supply



Jiang urges improving military equipment


  China announces gene bank to clone pandas
  First steps in cloning from dead
  China chastises universities on queer sex education
  Sexually frustrated chimp takes up smoking
  Talking Dutch toilets flush with comments
  Tigers earning their wild stripes
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  Chinese Lady Dai leaves Egyptian mummies for dead