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Bhadawari buffalo
[HYDERABAD] India's Department of Biotechnology has launched a US$1.2 million project to unravel the genome of the water buffalo.

Nearly 90 per cent of milk consumed in India comes from buffaloes. The three-year research project will aim to conserve valuable genetic material — such as genes coding for disease resistance and high fat content in milk — and to enable future genetic improvement of the animal.

The conservation aspect was prompted by the fact that farmers are neglecting certain breeds because they give poor yields. For example the Bhadawari buffalo population — whose milk contains 14 per cent fat, over twice that of standard breeds — has declined to less than 2000 animals.

"Farmers are replacing these [breeds] with high milk yielders eroding the genetic diversity," says Satish Kumar of Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, one of six laboratories involved in the project. "These breeds may not be economically viable today but may have genes for traits that could be very critical in the future," he adds.

Over 1000 animals will be screened to construct a map of the entire buffalo genome. This will be used to generate a set of DNA markers for valuable traits, which can then be used to guide future breeding programmes.

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Photo credit: CCMB

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