Archive for the ‘Philippine Carabao Center supplement’ Category

Dairy Biotechnology Strategy

September 22, 2009

Dairy Biotechnology Strategy

When it comes to winning a war, there is one person Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) Executive Director Libertado C. Cruz, himself a true winner, looks up to as model.

That is South Korea’s Park Chung-hee, who led Korea to an export-oriented industrialization from 1961 to 1979.

“If there’s one big supporter of science, it was General Park. Many years back, he said ‘There are only four areas Korea should focus on—heavy industry, light industry, chemical industry, and electronics. From thereon they developed their scientists, established training centers, and tailor-fitted their universities in these four areas, said Cruz.

“He planned like an army general, and to the smallest detail, formulated a scheme how to win the war.”

In the Philippines, the war is really against poverty. And Cruz put it in his plan to win it in a different way—that is in leading PCC toward high-end technology.

Science pioneer as Park is, Cruz has been leading PCC into a different game on reproductive biotechnology.

First, PCC has intensively spread the use of artificial insemination (AI). Since the native carabao is known as a good draft animal but not as producer of milk, there was a need to cross the native carabao with high milk-producing animals, like the Murrah breed of India.

Semen used in AI comes from superior bulls of the dairy breed. When mated with the native animals, 50:50 crossbreds are produced, exhibiting growth twofold more than the native and milk production 3-4 times more than the native parents.

PCC has reached an average of 20,000 AI services, according to PCC AI Chief Aurelio Abesamis Jr.

For the past two years, PCC has initiated on expanding AI services by way of training private village-based AI technicians (VBAITs). This is because the existing AI technicians are mostly with the local government units (LGUs). Their numbers cannot be increased since LGUs cannot have additional plantilla positions. This is mainly the reason why the number of AI services in the country has not reached above six percent of all breedable animals.

The idea in the training of VBAITs is the technicians themselves earn on their own as entrepreneurs. This way, government no longer has to spend for employing the technicians. The skilled ones themselves find their way in making a profit in this business.

“To me, it’s a beautiful approach because government doesn’t have to give them salary, no traveling expense. They’re paid by the farmers for their service. Our investment is in training them,” he said.

PCC provides the technicians with the needed AI guns, liquid nitrogen (LN2) tanks and frozen semen. In addition, the VBAITs are supported with supply of LN2 for two years until they are fully established.

It targets 2,000 trained VBAITs by 2010.

With the VBAIT project, PCC now concentrates on training AI technicians instead of doing actual AI itself. It will further focus on Mindanao, which has big potential for dairy carabao expansion, with a targeted AI service of 10,000 per year. It will do this in collaboration with private technicians and technicians too of local government units.

Using AI for wide-scale upgrading is the more logical approach. However, to produce animals with blood composition of at least 87.5% dairy breed, it will take three generations of backcrossing. The first generation results in 50:50, second generation backcross 75:25 and third generation backcross is 87.5:12.5. Each generation requires five years, so essentially, it will require at least 15 years to produce animals with production ability closer to the purebred.

This is why other reproductive techniques came into the picture, including the use of embryo transfer. All these technologies (AI and embryo transfer), however, complement rather than compete with each other.

“We’re practically more on the development of the technology,” Cruz said.

Feeding system is another important research and development (R&D) effort.

`”If there’s any single intervention that can bring substantial improvement in smallholders’ animal productivity, it’s improvement in feeding system. Nutrient deficiencies are very common among smallholder farmers, said Cruz.

“One simple and practical approach is to develop least-cost supplement like the urea molasses mineral blocks (UMMB).”

Mineral nutrition is less appreciated and less understood by dairy producers. This is very common as dairy milk production depletes minerals from the animals if not properly given mineral supplementation. This, in turn, affects milk production itself, and more importantly, depresses reproduction. Mineral supplementation, after meeting energy and protein, will bring significant improvement in the overall performance of dairy animals.

As PCC has been appointed lead agency for biotechnology R&D for livestock, it will also cover other animal species, such as cattle and goat. It has started establishing a cryobank with samples of tissue, embryo and semen of all animals.

“It’s a common facility in countries that recognize the importance of indigenous genetic materials,” Cruz pointed out.

PCC has also started R&D on DNA-based traceability as this would enable the country to tap export markets.

“Our livestock industry will generate more benefit when we go to the export market. But when we talk about the export market, they will talk about traceability.”

Another vital area where biotechnology finds meaning is on the screening of genetic defects among commercially important animals. This is very important as the Philippines relies largely on imported genetics. Screening for genetic defects for all imported materials, to include semen, embryos and ever live animals, would save the livestock industry tremendous wastage since this can prevent entry of less desirable animal germplasm.

The country’s capability on screening for genetic defects will prevent importation of unwanted animals, such as what happened when the country brought in numerous goats from the US that were infected with caprine arthritis-encephalitis syndrome (CAE). CAE is a goat disease causing chronic arthritis and leukoencephalomyelitis manifested by paralysis in goat parts.

The country never had this goat disease before, but it has already spread nationwide. Without the ability to test diseases, the Filipino consumer will always be at the threat of disease infection.

To enhance its strength in biotechnology, PCC is training its people.

“Human capacitation is basic,” he said.

PCC is collaborating with foreign institutions, like Korea’s Institute of Animal Sciences-RDA, Taiwan Livestock Research Institute and the National Livestock Breeding Center of Japan for technical capacitation.

“If you have capable people, they themselves can generate fund. They themselves can generate technology. But fund itself cannot generate technology. The government has to make a serious effort on how to get intelligent, young people to go into science.

“Knowledge generation is more expensive, but more exciting. When young people understand the technology, they get so excited.” he said.

PCC is also into collaboration with the Bureau of Agriculture Research (BAR) and the Philippine Council on Agriculture, Forestry Natural Resources Research and Development (PICARRD) which provide funding for its R & D.

Generating funding support to strengthen institutional capacitation is critical.

“The first thing is to know the direction. The second is selling the idea. I tell our people it’s better to work hard because we have the money than do nothing because you don’t have money.”

Cruz recalled that a high-powered technical team from Sweden once visited the country to analyze how to develop the dairy industry. This group said that the Philippines does not need any new legislation.

“What we need is seriousness and we need to ‘walk the talk’, they said,” said Cruz.

PCC though takes the battle to a higher level. Rather than focusing on just changing the policies, PCC is taking a proactive approach, creating a niche in fresh milk production.

“The best fight is to become more efficient. Produce efficiently, increase profitability. When you raise profitability, farmers will get into this business. In creating an efficient domestic fresh carabao milk production, no country is able to compete with us, and so, we have a niche market.”

Fresh milk production by farmers is also a significant hedge of poor farmers against the international financial crisis. They may not be exporting, but they’re generating income for themselves and are giving good value for money for their neighbors who no longer have to buy lower-quality imported milk.


Marker-assisted selection revolution

September 22, 2009

Marker-assisted selection revolution

Livestock specialists at the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) are breaking ground with their use of marker-assisted selection (MAS) in identifying carabaos with superior traits.

MAS is a complementary technology for use with more established conventional methods of genetic selection for animal improvement. The application of MAS is a fresh fountain of hope in accelerating the development of carabaos with higher genetic potentials through the propagation of genes relating to superior performance in specific desirable traits.

Expectedly, this would translate to better production – and an improved quality of life for Filipino farmers.

Dr. Libertado C. Cruz, PCC executive director, stated in “Global Trends in Livestock Biotechnology and Prospects in the Philippines” that DNA-based technology, such as MAS, will have immense economic benefits. It reduces the number of years it takes to introduce genetic improvements into a livestock specie. MAS fast tracks the identification of traits in animals that are of economic importance, such as those associated with milk production like milk fat, protein concentration, beef quality, and disease resistance, to name a few.

“Maximum impact can be achieved when this technology is coupled with advanced reproductive biotechniques,” Cruz added.

MAS is a technology based largely on genetic information. The differences which distinguish one animal from another are encoded in the animal’s genetic material, the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

The DNA occurs in pairs of chromosomes (strands of genetic material), one coming from each parent. The genes, which control the animal’s characteristics, are specific segments of each chromosome. All of the animal’s genes together make up its genome. Some traits, such as coat color, may be controlled by only one gene. Other more complex characteristics may be influenced by many genes.

At present, PCC research specialists are focusing on genes known to affect milk production.

“We’re working first on those associated with milk because that’s also where we have lots of performance data records. We cannot do marker studies unless we have sufficient data on the animals,” said Dr. Ester B. Flores, Genetic Improvement Program (GIP) national coordinator and leader of the said project.

To help identify specific genes, PCC scientists use molecular markers that have been previously reported to work on cattle, which may well be considered the carabao’s closest relative. These markers, consisting of a string or sequence of nucleic acid, are near the DNA sequence of the desired gene. Since the markers and the genes are close together on the same chromosome, they tend to stay together with each generation of animals.

To date, PCC researchers are in the process of screening over a hundred molecular markers that may be linked to high milk production. Together with individual performance records, these markers could determine whether or not an animal is a high milk producer. Carabaos may then be genotyped for the desirable form of the marker by analyzing DNA collected from tissue, blood or semen samples through a process called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) wherein desired segments of DNA are multiplied many times over in a short period of time.

“Once we’re sure (about the markers), we will develop a standard genotyping protocol or kit. It will be a lot easier to identify animals with good genes later on and select them for breeding. We can impart this technology to the farmers and give them the assurance that this animal will be producing a lot of milk,” Flores stated.

With marker-assisted selection, PCC looks forward to the time when the country’s carabao will attain a physique similar to those of the cattle breeds in developed countries like Japan and the US.

“Our objective is to raise the quality and quantity of milk production,” Flores said. “This will have an important impact on the farmers, especially in the Philippines where buffalo milk has become competitive in the market. We can immediately help our farmers improve their income.

DNA: Greatest discovery of the past 100 years

September 22, 2009

DNA: Greatest discovery of the past 100 years

Did you know that the discovery of the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) is considered the most important biological work over the last 100 years?

Dr. Eufemio T. Rasco Jr., “The Unfolding Gene Revolution” author, said it was considered the greatest scientific discovery much later after Nature, a prestigious scientific journal, published an article on it on April 25, 1953.

American James Watson, then a 23-year Ph.D. holder on biology, and British physicist Francis Crick, both at the University of Cambridge came out high-profile after they showed proof of the structure of the DNA.

They illustrated that the DNA is a molecule made up of two chains of helix-forming nucleotides interlocked with each other, each a template for the other. When the two chains separate in cell division, a new set of chain exactly the same as the original is formed, making DNA multiply itself faithfully. An exception, though, is mutations at unpredictable times.

But Watson and Crick, as they are now collectively known, didn’t do it all twosome but were inspired by many people in their DNA discovery even prior to their receiving a Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 1962.

That award they shared together with Maurice Wilkins of King’s College in London who studied DNA by looking at DNA’s x-ray diffraction photos.

First, they were inspired by the work of Linus Pauling who found out in 1948 that proteins have an alpha helix shape that spirals. Then Erwin Chargaff, an Austrian biochemist, showed that the nitrogen bases (the pairs adenine (A)and guanine (G) and cytosine (C) and thymine (T)) are arranged in different ways. But the amount of the bases, the A in a DNA sample, was always equal to that of T; similarly, the amount of C was the same as the amount of G. That he found out through the use of chromatography which enables separation of a mixture’s substances.

The DNA structure appears to be so simple, composed of only four bases, A, G, C, T, so as to represent a vast data of trait in plant, animal, and human life. But isn’t the Morse Code also composed of only four symbols (dot, dash, short spaces, and long spaces) which can represent all encyclopedia of human knowledge?

Watson and Crick never did any experiment on their work but only seriously examined others’ works!

Their other inspirations were the works of Hershey and Chase; they read scientific papers of chemists from the US and England. But most of all, according to Rasco, they “made sketches and three dimensional models, and spent a lot of time discussing their ideas in the office and elsewhere, notably Cambridge Campus’ Eagle Pub over martini and beer.”

But then, another very important stimulus for them was the work of Rosalind Franklin, also of King’s College, whom Watson and Crick listened to in a lecture in a rather critical way, owing partly to her (maybe shabby) physical appearance.

Franklin showed through x-ray diffractions the wet form of DNA which was in a helix form with the outside part of the molecule formed by phosphates.

Unfortunately, Franklin had died by the time Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize which is only being given to people who are alive and only to be shared by three.

Animal Cloning

September 22, 2009
Animal Cloning

The use of reproductive biotechnology may be the most sophisticated research and development (R&D) work that the Philippines is into now in the agriculture sector.

The development of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), popularly known as cloning, in carabao has been pursued by the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) since mid-2000.

Its purpose may not really be for the immediate reproduction of superior carabao breeds that can right away efface a $500 million dairy yearly import.

But who knows? It can just turn out to be a field the country may have a global niche in since no carabao has yet been cloned elsewhere. None yet, even in China where one cloned carabao was reported to have been born, but never survived, according to PCC experts.

The famous Dolly, a sheep, was the first successful cloned mammal as announced by the journal Nature in February 1997. After this, other mammals have been cloned including the mouse, cattle, goat, pig, deer, rabbit, cat, mule, and horse.

Cloning, an act of producing a copy or identical copies of a biological material, may refer to any of these three types: cloning of a gene or segments of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA); reproductive cloning or copying of whole animals like Dolly; and therapeutic cloning.

The last is about the production of embryonic stem cells (ESC) that can create tissues that can replace injured or diseased tissues.

In cloning, somatic cell from an animal is taken, in the case of the cloning of the carabao here, a cell from an animal’s ear skin. The DNA from this donor animal’s cell, using its nucleus, is then transferred into an egg cell or oocyte whose nucleus has been removed so that the egg cell will obtain the DNA from the donor animal.

The egg then develops into an embryo and is later implanted in a womb of a surrogate mother.

After a few attempts on carabao cloning, scientists at PCC are looking into ways of solving abortion of the fetus after around three months in the womb (a fetus lasts 11 months in the womb before birth).

They’re looking at epigenetic factors that cause abortion. They may try to resolve abortion by making sure that the actual stage of the DNA material in the egg of the donor animal is synchronized with the reproductive cycle stage of the surrogate mother.

The idea of cloning is to multiply the effort to propagate superior animal breeds at an accelerated time.

Cloning is not really an old technology as some may think. Animal cloning itself using SCNT has been here for around 30 years. But cloning in plants has been here for decades with grafted fruits like bananas. Or else, through conventional breeding from seed, banana breeding can take 30 years.

Cloning may be the most interesting of all reproductive bio-techniques, and even controversial with moral implications of cloning human.

But scientists at PCC employ other technologies in reproduction whose uses have been more extensive and commercially applicable.

Ovum pick-up (OPU)/ in vitro maturation (IVM)/in vitro-fertilization (IVF). To breed animals with high milk production, researchers need sperm and egg cells from both superior animals. They usually get the egg cells of slaughtered carabaos in India. But this does not guarantee obtaining the best breed, thus the need to obtain it from a known live superior animal through OPU. An OPU enables researchers to get immature egg cells from a superior animal through aspiration with the aid of ultrasound.

But the oocytes have to mature within 24 hours through IVM which is done in the laboratory as the in vitro name implies. The IVF process follows where egg and sperm cells are fertilized and subsequently frozen for future transfer to the womb of a surrogate dam.

Embryo transfer (ET). With fertilization done in the laboratory, the embryo is now transferred inside, or in vivo, of a womb of a surrogate dam. Under this technique, PCC already has 12 to 15 successful birth through embryo transfer according to Dr. Annabelle S. Sarabia of PCC. But these successful cases are mainly used for technology development, rather than for immediate dairying.

Cryopreservation. This is the preservation under below zero degree Celsius freezing temperature of tissues, cells, embryo, semen of animals not only of carabao but also of cattle, goat, sheep, and other livestock animals (since PCC was appointed by Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap as animal biotechnology center in the Philippines). The cryo bank at PCC-Nueva Ecija headquarters now has 76,249 entries including purebreds and crossbreds of carabao and cattle and riverine buffaloes. Of this total entries, 2,168 are native species and 881 of the carabaos already have Expected Breeding Values (EBV) primarily indicating milk production record.

It will enable scientists to draw out these samples for future reproduction specially when they are later found or predicted to have desirable traits.

It will boost the development of the country’s animal recording system even if this system is just new to the Philippines while other countries like the United States have long maintained their cattle herd books for centuries.

Futuristic Gene pharming/transgenesis/xenotransplantation. While R&D on these technologies are not yet present in the Philippines, PCC looks forward to future R&D on these. Gene pharming aims to produce pharmaceutical products (vaccine, medicine) through the production of recombinant pharmaceutical proteins in the mammary gland of animals that have been genetically engineered.

That goes with the use of genetic engineering (GE) or transgenesis which enables transfer of desirable trait-carrying DNA between different breed or species. The use of GE on pigs has once been employed by scientists to determine if a certain gene has the capability to increase cholesterol level in human, whether or not he is a heavy-eater of cholesterol-carrying foods.

Moreover, xenotransplantation has been an object of R&D for scientists abroad for its potential in the use of animal organs, such as a pig’s heart, to be transplanted to human which will make organs’ supply limitless.


Artificial Insemination Expert

September 22, 2009
Technology/Science & Economy:

AI Expert

He may not have made it to certain tests as a requirement to a permanent government positions.

But Noli Lorenzo,49, is a true expert of a technology, artificial insemination (AI), nobody-else can claim better.

Noli exceeds the national average AI success rate (40%) with his 60% AI births of carabaos totaling to 300 out of 500 services in 2008.

“It’s really my passion to do AI and carabao dairying since I was a small child. Our income from carabao’s milk was what gave me my daily allowance for schooling,” he said.

Now that many livestock workers are needed in big cattle and milk-exporting countries like New Zealand, Noli has a personal mission to rather help Filipino farmers.

Putting one’s heart into AI and having a desire to help people are what makes one successful in it.

“One should really be interested in it and not just in the certificate (of training required ) to be able to go to New Zealand.”

Noli finished Animal Science at the Central Luzon State University. He had his first AI training in 1989 having started working at the Philippine Carabao Center in 1988 when it was yet the Philippine Carabao Research and Development Center.

But since 2001, when he got out of PCC and went later on his way to become a private village-based AI technician (VAT), a different fulfillment caught him with his AI practice. That along with a better livelihood source.

“I compare my private work with my work with government, and I don’t have regrets. Here one gets dirty, but my income is higher,” he said.

Charge per AI service is P500.

He has already been able to send his two children to college, one finishing Agriculture, the other, B.S. Biology.

When he was yet a newcomer in AI, Noli got his share of rejections.

But as Ann Landers puts it, “People of integrity expects to be believed (and) know time will prove them right,” he persisted in proving AI can work.

“When I was just starting as a private technician, nobody believed me that a piece of stainless steel-made stick can make a carabao pregnant. So I demonstrated it could work by doing it on my brother’s animal so I could convince them.”

As an AI straw device with a 0.5 cc semen has a million of sperm cells, getting an animal pregnant is really no longer impossible without a bull.

And he is carrying a load of those semen daily not only for carabao AI, but for cattle AI too with his supply of 100 straws each for each kind. The cattle semen he gets from the Gen. Tinio Animal Stock Farm of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI).

AI, where a sperm from a more superior breed is placed in a female reproductive tract for making the native pregnant with a more productive breed, has been considered a successful technology for years.

AI gives farmers the advantage of having their native animals crossed with purebred Indian Murrah or Bulgarian buffalo. A crossbred offspring of that union can give milk of five liters and up per day compared to a pure native’s two liters.

A factor to a successful AI is one’s ability to determine fertility in the animal.

Of course, nothing beats a bull’s ability to detect fertility of a female carabao. But somehow since Noli has been very familiar with carabaos, he can determine if these are really in heat or ready for pregnancy through an abnormal touch in or through a mucous discharge from the ovary.

“When that is the case, an animal can become pregnant 100 percent,” he relates confidently.

An animal can also show fertility through the sounds and actions it makes.

However, a lot of times, a false alarm from the owner would leave Noli wasting transportation time and money.

But that is also where he comes to educate farmers.

A female carabao can only be fertile over a 24-hour period during an 18 to 21-day heat cycle. Sometimes he would be called at night just before this fertility period ends. Those inconveniences he endures for the sake of helping poor farmers.

If after a third try, an animal does not get pregnant with AI, he recommends further diagnosis of the animal.

He also acts in a way as a veterinarian to farmers by educating them on keeping the animals healthy such as through de-worming and feeding. This way, the carabao gets to become pregnant easier.

Noli also conducts AI together with a system of injecting a synchronization hormone on the dam. This puts the animal in a pregnancy mode three days after injection, although conception rate here is leaner.

Now, he is already known to be that AI expert all over Tarlac, not only in Victoria where he resides. He is even called up to Nueva Ecija, although he would at times give way to another technician nearby in order to share livelihood with others.

The only problem now is he sometimes encounters farmers who wouldn’t pay even after the animal has already given birth.

As impoverished farmers have no recourse but to sell their carabaos when a financial need arises, Noli considers it his mission to reorient farmers on the profitability of dairying in carabaos over just using it as a draft (for plowing fields).

He demonstrates that along with tending fields, as he now grows rice on two hectares and sugarcane on one-half hectare, a farmer can have a more comfortable life through dairying.

Rural farmers have never extensively made dairying a source of livelihood which is what is being encouraged by dairy agencies like PCC and the National Dairy Authority.

“I want farmers to know that milking can give a higher income.”

He now has six carabaos with which to hopefully demonstrate both AI and dairying, although only one is a female. And while this one female has already given birth to a female calf, that offspring he gave away to the farmhand who’s taking care of his animals which is an admirable practice in the rural area.

He also wants to educate farmers on the profitability and wholesomeness of milking carabaos even after the animal already has its own calf to feed. That is possible specially with a technology on feeding pregnant heifers with mineral supplements.

To promote dairying, he is helping a cooperative of sugarcane farmers on its livelhood potential. A total of 30 out of 60 members of this cooperative already own carabaos.

With people like Noli, the rural areas find a gem when others who have skills like him would choose rather to find greener pastures in New Zealand or elsewhere.