Scientists from the Monash University are pursuing the possible use of cryopreservation of genetic material for future cloning and other assisted reproduction techniques, particularly the induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
Cryopreservation, a process where cells or whole tissues are preserved by cooling to low sub-zero temperatures, aims to enable stocks of cells to be stored to prevent the need to have all cell lines in culture at all times. It is invaluable when dealing with cells of limited life span, thus, this breakthrough procedure could help in the survival of the endangered snow leopard, a large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, researchers said.
The study, which is part of the PhD project of Rajneesh Verma, supervised by Dr Paul Verma, both from the Monash Institute of Medical Research (MIMR), could allow scientists to create reproductive cells from adult snow leopard tissues, which will then be used in breeding this animal.
According to the researchers, the use of iPS have never before been generated from a member of the cat family. For the study, researchers used ear tissue samples taken from adult snow leopards at Mogo Zoo in NSW to generate the iPS cells.
"The power of stem cells 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.
"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," he added.
According to Dr. Verma, the breakthrough was significant due to the difficulty of obtaining reproductive cells, or gametes, even from animals in captivity. However, he plans to apply the same techniques to other members of cat family, including the Bengal tiger, the jaguar and the serval.
Associate Professor Peter Temple-Smith of Monash University's Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Professor Michael Holland of the University of Queensland also collaborated in this study which was published in Theriogenology.
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