September 23, 2005

Philippines says close to cloning water buffalo

By Stuart Grudgings

MANILA (Reuters) - Researchers in the Philippines say they
are close to creating the world's first clone of a water
buffalo that could eventually help raise productivity levels
for millions of impoverished farmers.

The aim is to replicate a "super buffalo" that would boost
the genetic make-up and milk production of the native water
buffalo, the carabao, said Dr Libertado Cruz, executive
director of the government-run Philippine Carabao Center.

"We are now in the process of transferring the cloned
embryos to a surrogate dam (mother)," he told Reuters on

"By the middle of next year we can expect some live

The indebted southeast Asian nation is not usually known
for technological innovation, but Cruz said cloning had become
easier and less expensive since Dolly the sheep, the first
cloned mammal, entered the world in 1997.

Brazil has created clones of cattle, including an
endangered cow species earlier this year.

Cruz said researchers at the center had created the embryos
by fusing genetic material from somatic cells taken from a
Bulgarian water buffalo's ear with the eggs of local carabao.

The Philippines has imported about 3,500 Bulgarian buffalo,
which are descendents of a high-yielding Murrah breed from
India, Cruz said.

The carabao, of which there are an estimated 3.2 million in
the Philippines, is a national symbol because of its role in
everything from pulling carts to producing meat and milk.

But dairy carabao produce only a relatively small amount of
milk, an average of 8 liters (2.1 U.S. gallons) a day,
according to Cruz.

"In India, where the animal numbers around 98 million, I
have seen some animals producing 35 liters per day," he said.
"I would consider these animals as the super buffalo, but they
are not so many."

Cruz said the plan was to obtain enough sperm from cloned
male super buffalo to start a widespread insemination program
in the Philippines that would create higher-yielding carabao.

He said there was no danger of the Philippine carabao being
entirely replaced by a new breed of super buffalo because there
were genetically pure pools of carabao that would be protected.

"In terms of the future worries of these animals getting
extinct, it's not going happen," Cruz said.

(With reporting by Dolly Aglay)