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Saturday, 25 April, 1998, 04:40 GMT 05:40 UK
Pandas 'to be cloned'
panda
Attempts to breed pandas in captivity have had poor results
Scientists in China are claiming to have made a breakthrough in their attempts to clone the endangered giant panda.

A team at the Beijing Institute of Zoology (BIZ) say they have already successfully copied some of the key steps used in the creation of Dolly the cloned sheep last year by British scientists.

Giant pandas are now so rare that even in their homeland of China few exist outside of zoos.

microscope
Pandas are considered too rare to risk in laboratory experiments
In an effort to increase panda reproduction, China has been experimenting with artificial insemination over the past two decades.

However, as very few of the cubs born through this method have lived long enough to breed, the BIZ team sees cloning as a more productive alternative.

Pandas are considered too rare to use in laboratory experiments, so the scientists plan to inject the panda clones into the womb of another animal, probably a dog.

Professor Chen Dayaun from BIZ said: "A dog's foetus is in the womb for about the same length of time as a panda's. That is what makes it a better choice than a bear or a cow or some of the other animals that have been suggested."

dolly
Dolly: recently had a daughter by traditional methods
BBC correspondents say that in China the prospect of panda cloning has not led to the same ethical outcry that was caused in the west by the cloning of a sheep.

They say concern has focused more on whether this is the most effective way of boosting the panda population.

Some academics at Beijing University say it would be better to devote more resources to preserving the traditional habitats of the species. They also fear cloning would deny pandas the genetic enrichment they would gain from ordinary breeding.

See also:

08 Jan 98 | Sci/Tech
To clone or not to clone
24 Feb 98 | Sci/Tech
Dolly's creators clone a calf
20 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
Old black eyes bows out
06 Jul 98 | Sci/Tech
Dolly gives birth
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