July 25, 2009 in Nation/World

Panda cub was conceived using frozen sperm

Tini Tran Associated Press

BEIJING – For the first time, a giant panda cub has been born in China after being conceived using frozen sperm, officials announced Friday – an innovation scientists hope will help the endangered species avoid extinction.

The new cub’s birth Thursday means breeders will no longer be forced to rely on semen from China’s few virile males, and may even be able to bring in sperm from zoos in San Diego, Mexico City or elsewhere.

That’s key to promoting a healthy panda population because too much inbreeding can lead to birth defects that would further threaten the survival of the species.

The new cub, born to You You, a female panda at the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in southwestern Sichuan, is the 10th born at the breeding facility this year.

Just after dawn, the pinkish, hairless cub emerged, and its mother was shown licking the tiny wiggling creature to clean it on footage broadcast by the state television channel CCTV.

Panda researchers said Friday it was the first successful live birth worldwide using frozen panda sperm.

“We did try before but it failed,” said Huang Yan, a deputy research technician with the China Panda Preservation Research Center.

He declined to provide specifics but said the Wolong team had improved its thawing techniques, making frozen sperm more viable. Sperm samples are deep-frozen using liquid nitrogen, and in the past, only 20 to 30 percent of the sperm survived. But this time the center managed to raise viability to about 80 percent, he said.

Scientists carried out the artificial insemination in March, and You You was found to be pregnant in June during an ultrasound. The sperm from male panda Lu Lu had been frozen for “a number of years,” said Huang.

The sex of the baby panda is not yet clear, so it hasn’t been named, Huang said.

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