The 82-acre Edinburgh Zoo, formally known as the Scottish National Zoological Park, in Scotland is home to two giant pandas named Tian Tian and Yang Guang. Their Chinese names mean 'Sweetie' and 'Sunshine' respectively, and they are the United Kingdom's last remaining giant pandas.
To save the species from the brink of extinction, the female and male pandas will be cloned by the same group who cloned Dolly the sheep.
Leading the process is Dr. Bill Ritchie, the same expert involved in the Dolly project. The researchers have procured several tissue samples for additional cells growth. The cloning process will be done at Roslin Embryology, a biotechnology firm at Edinburgh Science Triangle.
The research team found 'multipotent progenitor cells' taken from a tissue sample in the panda's cheeks. These 'multipotent progenitor cells' are closely similar to stem cells which can be cultivated into special cells. Eventually, they can be grown into nerves and muscles.
"The fact that you can grow cells is a step on the way," said Dr. Bill Ritchie. "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."
Wildlife officials believe that there are approximately 2,000 giant pandas left. This number includes pandas living in the wild and in captivity or rehabilitation sites. Sweetie and Sunshine came from the Chengdu, Sichuan's capital in southwest China. The two giant pandas are living in Edinburgh Zoo on loan and with an annual fee of £600,000 or $909,810.
In China, Sweetie gave birth to twins on August 7, 2009. Her male cub was given the name Shen Wei and her female cub Bo Si. When she arrived in Edinburgh Zoo, she had a series of unsuccessful mating seasons. Several artificial inseminations were performed, some of which led to a pregnancy, but later became unproductive. Any cubs she produce will be sent to China when they reach two years of age. Sweetie's pregnancies have resulted in a massive following.