Scientists at Monash University in Melbourne say the breakthrough could lead to cryopreservation of genetic material for future cloning and other assisted reproduction techniques.
Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which share many of the useful properties of embryonic stem cells, had never before been generated from a member of the cat family, a university release said Monday.
The researchers used ear tissue samples taken from adult snow leopards at a New South Wales to generate the iPS cells.
"There is a lot of interest in cryopreservation of tissue from endangered species, but for this to be useful for conservation, both sperm and an egg are required," Monash researcher Rajneesh Verma said.
"The power of stem cells is that they can differentiate into all the cell types in the body," he said. "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.
"By generating these stem cells, we've taken the first step in creating reproductive cells from adult tissues of an endangered animal.
"This would help save species from extinction," Verma said.