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by Melody M. Aguiba
25-September-2005 Manila Bulletin

The first cloned carabao in the Philippines may be born next year and is counted on to give birth to an industry with superior breed of carabaos that will raise local dairy yield or carabao meat production.

Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) Executive Director Libertado P. Cruz is optimistic the Philippines can have a productive carabao cloning technology.

"We are very close to it. Maybe by next year, we can produce them already," said Cruz in an interview.

Cloning aims to replicate a superior breed which for carabaos may be the production of as much as 25 to 30 liters of milk daily instead of just the average eight liters.

A carabao's embryo develops in its mother's womb for 310 days. But it may take four more years after birth to test if the cloned carabao possesses the same superior characteristic of the animal where its cell comes from. That will be once it begins producing milk itself.

Cloning, which was successfully done by the Roslin Institute in UK in "Dolly", the first mammalian (lamb) clone, gives the advantage of choosing parents without the traditional breeding systems.

In an embryo transfer of ET, an egg cell and a sperm cell go through fusion in an animal laboratory and then the embryo may be embedded inside an animal's womb or "en vivo." Then the one-celled embryo multiplies into many cells - two, four, eight, 16, 32 - until all the body parts-arm, brains, ears - are present and mature for the animal to be ready for birth.

In cloning, scientists reverse the process. From the multiplied cell or any somatic cell which may come from the ear, finger, nose, the order is retrogressed so that the somatic cell goes back to the fertilized egg.

"If you conduct a nuclear transfer, imagine a chicken's egg, get an egg that has not yet fertilized. Take out the egg yolk which will be the genetic material. Then put the somatic cell in it and you will multiply it into a nuclear transferred embryo. Then put the embryo in a surrogate mother," he explained.

In the present cloning, PCC is already in the process of embryo transfer, although it is continuing to look for an ideal surrogate mother which should be healthy and should live in unstressed, normal condition so that pregnancy will become successful.

PCC has used a Bulgarian buffalo producing 17 liters per day, more than double the eight liters per day yield of the local carabao. The somatic cell used is a Bulgarian buffalo's ear skin cell which is easy to extract without hurting the animal. The skin cell is cultured so that cells come out individually fused to an egg cell of a carabao whose nuclear material was removed.

PCC, which has a P5 million fund for cloning, is assisted by the Tsukuba University and Hokkaido University of Japan.

The benefit of a successful carabao clone in the country could be perceived when one puts in mind the value of the carabao industry. At P7 billion, this consists of the P3.7 billion meat production, P400 million dairy production, and the remaining value is the P3 billion draft animals that till the soil.

"The benefits are huge. Where can you see an animal giving 30 liters per day?" Cruz said.

The Philippines has been receiving technical assistance from India for its carabao program since the native carabao traditionally has poor milk production. But Murrah buffaloes from India are considered milk and meat animals with high genetics. India has been helping the Philippines in embryo transfer.

Since there are just a few Murrahs in the country, these are propagated through the use of Philippine carabaos as surrogate mothers of Murrah by embryo transfer.

Elaine Lanting, Buffalo Livestock Research chief at the Philippine Council for Agriculture Forestry Natural Resources Research and Development, said that it will require at least 20 years to produce purebred Murrah using Philippine carabao through artificial insemination.

But embryo transfer is a fast practical method of producing it, although efficiency, safety, and reliability using local carabaos as surrogate mother is still being studied.

Under this method, high genetics embryo from India are cryopreserved and transported to the Philippines, and implanted in a Philippine carabao surrogate mother.

"With in vitro embryo production-vitrification transfer, it is possible to propagate purebred Murrah in very short period of time at the villages using farmer-cooperators' carabao. This enhances farmers' owning the purebred for milk and meat production which could help them improve their livelihood," reported PCAFNRD.

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