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    Endangered Xizang Cattle Cloned for the First Time

    Scientists hope the accomplishment will save a national strategic resource from extinction.
    Jan 30, 2024#animals#science

    For the first time, Chinese scientists have successfully cloned an endangered cattle species native to the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau critical to breeding cattle suited to living in the area’s harsh environment.  

    Four male calves of both Zhangmu cattle and Apeijiaza cattle were bred artificially using somatic cell cloning technology in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Monday. The oldest was born on Nov. 12, and the youngest on Friday.

    The latest national survey of livestock found only 19 Zhangmu cattle and 39 Apeijiaza cattle left in the country, with just one breeding bull remaining. According to Xinhua, the breeds are considered strategic resources for the country due to their ability to live on the snowy plateau at altitudes of more than 3,500 meters.

    Both breeds have steadily declined since the 1990s as local farmers opted for foreign breeds that grow faster and larger. A major earthquake in neighboring Nepal in 2015 also led to a sharp decline in the number of Zhangmu cattle, which failed to adapt to new living environments.

    Conservation efforts for the endangered breeds began in 2022. With no suitable cloning facilities in Xizang, cloning took place in Yunyang County in Chongqing, selected for its similarities in climate and terrain with the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau.

    “The eight cloned calves were born following transplantation of the embryos into surrogate cows and a full-term gestation,” Yu Dawei, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told state broadcaster CCTV.

    Two cloned calves of each breed will be sent back to Xizang this summer to assist with reproduction efforts, while the rest will stay in Yunyang County until maturity and have their semen collected.

    As Yunyang County has a lower altitude than the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, the cloned calves will be monitored as they acclimatize to the higher altitudes, scientists said.

    China has seen several breakthroughs in animal cloning in recent years, including reproducing dogs, pigs, and monkeys. Officials said they are exploring the conditions needed to clone cattle in Xizang.

    (Header image: A scientist feeds one of the cloned calves in Yunyang County, Chongqing, Jan. 20, 2024. VCG)