Scientists are planning to clone the only giant pandas in the UK in a bid to save them from extinction.
The experts who cloned Dolly the sheep have taken tissue samples from Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo and used them to grow more cells.
It is the crucial first step in being able to make genetic copies of the endangered animals, of which there are only about 2,000 left in the wild and captivity.
Zoos find it notoriously difficult to persuade pandas to mate, and in March, Tian Tian was artificially inseminated during the short time of year she is fertile, but lost the cub during pregnancy.
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Dr Bill Ritchie, who helped create Dolly and is involved with the new project through biotechnology firm Roslin Embryology, said: "The fact that you can grow cells is a step on the way.
"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."
The breakthrough was finding rare "multipotent progenitor cells" in the panda's cheek. Similar to stem cells, they can be grown into specialised cells such as muscles or nerves.
- Mail On Sunday