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'Super carabao' making the scene in year of the rats

By Jocelyn Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:08:00 12/31/2007

Filed Under: Culture (general)

MANILA, Philippines?The Year of the Rat could also be the year of the ?super carabao.?

At the Philippine Carabao Center in Nueva Ecija, scientists have embarked on a research project that would help farmers select and breed only the superior race of water buffalo that could produce four to 18 liters of milk a day.

According to PCC executive director Liberato Cruz, the center started working on the gene-based technology a few months ago with the help of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Of the P15-million budget allocated to sustain the undertaking, P11.3 million came from the coffers of the DOST while the rest came from the center?s own pockets, Cruz told the Inquirer in an interview.

To perfect the technology, scientists will collect cells from hybrid female carabaos and examine these cells under a microscope to detect and study which gene or DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is responsible for higher milk production.

The toilsome task, according to Cruz, will begin with the screening of roughly 400 female hybrid water buffalo the PCC has been breeding since 2004. Currently, the center is still in the process of collecting data on the animals? milk yield.

?Seventy percent of our female hybrid water buffaloes are actually above average milk-producers,? he said.

Genetic markers

According to gene pool coordinator Daniel Aquino, PCC?s female hybrid carabao could yield an average of four to six liters of milk daily for 10 months or 300 days compared to the native breed which normally produces only about a liter a day.

Aquino also disclosed that a few of these hybrid carabaos?produced through in-vitro fertilization from top Murrah bulls and female buffaloes in India?could yield up to 18 liters a day.

(The reproductive process involves getting oocytes from slaughtered female carabaos, fertilizing them in the laboratory through a test tube and transferring the embryo with the use of instruments to surrogate mother carabaos.)

Once scientists at the center find the genetic markers for this particular trait, it would be easier and faster for them to pick out the ?best performers? in a herd, Cruz said.

Best milk-producers

Called the marker-assisted selection, the new technology would allow the process of selection and elimination of young carabaos at a very early stage?a scheme expected to work to the advantage of poor farmers, Cruz noted.

?We will already have a basis for selecting which carabaos to develop. Right then and there, it can be determined if newborn female carabaos will become the best milk-producers when they mature,? he said.

At present, the center waits until a young female buffalo is old enough to get pregnant and produce milk before the center can gauge its lactating power. But the genetic-based technology would make the work faster and more accurate, he added.

?Through this technology, we will be able to assure our farmers that the little money they have will be spent on an animal with the best genetic credentials,? explained Cruz.

He also disclosed the center?s plan to expand the technology to detect meat quality and fertility of hybrid carabaos, among others.

First test-tube carabao

The undertaking is touted to be PCC?s next breakthrough in reproductive biotechnology in carabaos following the birth of the first test-tube hybrid carabao in 2004 named ?Glory,? in honor of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Glory who was born on Ms Arroyo?s birthday, is among the top milk producers in the herd, Cruz said. The center has produced more than a hundred of Glory?s kind since.

The new research project is in line with deposed President Joseph Estrada?s vision to boost the livelihood of farmers and cut by 50 percent the country?s yearly importation of milk and milk products.

Considered as Estrada?s single, most successful project during his days as an opposition senator, the PCC was created through Republic Act 3707 or the Carabao Act of 1992.

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