Saving the snow leopard with stem cells

January 23, 2012
Snow Leopard

( -- The survival of the endangered snow leopard is looking promising thanks to Monash University scientists who have, for the first time, produced embryonic stem-like cells from the tissue of an adult leopard.

Never before have induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which share many of the useful properties of , been generated from a member of the cat family. The breakthrough raises the possibility of cryopreservation of for future and other assisted reproduction techniques.

The study, published in Theriogenology, is part of the PhD project of Rajneesh Verma, supervised by Dr. Paul Verma, both from the Monash Institute of Medical Research (MIMR). Associate Professor Peter Temple-Smith of Monash University's Department of and Professor Michael Holland of the University of Queensland also collaborated. 

The researchers used ear tissue samples taken from adult snow leopards at Mogo Zoo, in NSW, to generate the iPS cells.

Dr. Verma said the breakthrough was significant due to the difficulty of obtaining reproductive cells, or gametes, even from animals in captivity. 

"There is a lot of interest in of tissue from endangered species, but for this to be useful for conservation, both sperm and an egg are required."

"The power of is that they can differentiate into all the cell types in the body. This means, they have the potential to become gametes. In fact, mouse iPS cells have given rise to entire off-spring, so the possibilities are enormous,” Dr. Verma said.

Mr. Verma said the benefits of the breakthrough for the conservation of cat species, and biodiversity were clear.

"By generating these stem cells, we've taken the first step in creating  reproductive cells from adult tissues of an endangered animal. In the future, we aim to harness the potential of the iPS cells and create off-spring. This would help save species from extinction," Mr. Verma said.

The is a large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia. Their high-altitude habitat and shy nature make accurate population counts difficult, but it is estimated that between 3500 and 7000 snow leopards exist in the wild, with numbers on the decline. 

Mr. Verma said he became fascinated with large cats during his childhood in India.

"I'm really following my passion in applying my expertise in stem cells to help save these animals. I am applying the same techniques to other members of cat family, including the Bengal tiger, the jaguar and the serval."

Explore further: Stem cell research puts interstate rivalry on hold

Related Stories

Stem cell research puts interstate rivalry on hold

September 4, 2008

Victoria and New South Wales have put aside their competitive interstate rivalry to collaborate on a stem cell research project, as announced by Innovation Minister Gavin Jennings and NSW Minister for Science and Medical ...

Stem cell research to benefit horse owners and trainers

October 21, 2008

In a potential breakthrough for the performance horse industry (such as racing and polo), Melbourne scientists are aiming to harness stem cells to repair tendon, ligament, cartilage and bone damage in horses.

How Useful Are Adult Stem Cells, Really?

April 26, 2010

( -- With the debate (especially in the U.S.) raging over ethics of using embryonic stem cells in research to cure diseases like ALS, Parkinsons, Type 1 diabetes and even spinal cord injuries, the breakthrough ...

Never before seen Russian snow leopards caught on camera

December 1, 2011

New WWF camera traps have captured the images of two rare snow leopards in Russia. The photographs  are the first ever taken of snow leopards in Russia's Altai mountains.  WWF camera traps last month also captured ...

Recommended for you

Winter season reverses outcome of fruit fly reproduction

November 24, 2015

Male fruit flies could find their chances of fathering offspring radically reduced if they are last in the queue to mate with promiscuous females before winter arrives, according to new University of Liverpool research.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.