WASHINGTON — Researchers at the National Zoo said Monday they have successfully produced three litters of kittens in domestic cats by test-tube fertilization, a technique that may help save endangered feline species.
The zoo researchers called it the first time the technique has been successful in any type of cat or carnivore.
Researchers at the zoo, formally known as the National Zoological Park, said they hope the technique will be useful to breed and increase long-term survival of endangered species such as Pallas cats and flat-headed cats. Both species, found in South America, are about the size of house cats.
It may be possible to collect ova and sperm from endangered cats, fertilize the eggs in a lab dish and then implant the embryos in a common species of cat, which would act as a surrogate mother.
The technique may also be used to increase breeding of zoo animals.
"Eventually, we want to apply this to cheetahs, which breed very poorly in zoos," said David Wildt, head of the zoo's reproductive physiology division.