SCIENTISTS at two Scottish universities are pioneering work into developing a "panda formula milk" to help sustain any newborns in captivity.

It is hoped the project, being part-funded by the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan, China, will help improve the survival rates of orphaned or abandoned cubs.

The study is being led by Professor Malcolm Kennedy at the School of Life Sciences at Glasgow University, with Dr Richard Burchmore, of the Glasgow Polyomics facility, and Dr David Watson at Strathclyde University. Professor Hou Rong in Chengdu is leading the Chinese arm of the project.

Their research, which comes as keepers at Edinburgh Zoo wait to see if its female panda Tian Tian is pregnant, has highlighted molecular signatures in panda milk that could lead to the development of a formula equivalent.

Pandas are heavily dependent on their mother's first milk but in captivity, pandas can abandon their newborn babies. If two cubs are born at the same time, one will often be rejected so that all of the mother's attention and milk can be invested in the other.