Page last updated at 06:25 GMT, Saturday, 25 July 2009 07:25 UK

Baby panda born from frozen sperm


Footage of You You giving birth to the cub

The first giant panda conceived through artificial insemination using frozen sperm has been born in China, scientists say.

The cub was born early on Thursday at a panda reserve in Sichuan province.

Scientists hope that the innovation could help the endangered species, which numbers about 1,600 in the wild, avoid extinction.

It would mean frozen semen from zoos around the world could be used to widen the gene pool and avoid inbreeding.

'No harm'

"With the technology, we can keep the sperm frozen for decades," said Huang Yan, a researcher with the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Centre in Wolong.

"The freezing and thawing causes no harm or change to the genetic structure of the sperm, so the technology has no influence on the baby," he told Xinhua news agency.

Similar attempts had been made before but had failed, he said.

The baby panda, born to 11-year-old You You, would be named once its sex had been determined, the researcher said.

Dr Barbara Durrant of San Diego Zoo welcomed the idea of exchanging frozen panda semen with other zoos.

This would cause far less stress to the pandas than shipping them to other zoos in the hope that they would mate, she said.

The giant panda is one of the world's most endangered species, because of the destruction of its forest habitat, a short annual conception window for female pandas and lack of contact between isolated populations.

According to experts only about 1,600 pandas remain in the wild, mostly in Sichuan and neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

Another 180 pandas are being raised in captivity in China.

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