The Department of Agriculture-Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) is adopting the DNA marker technology to improve its breeding program.

milk-producing carabao

That should contribute over the long term to raising the country’s milk production, according to PCC Supervising Science Research Specialist Jesus Rommel V. Herrera.

The country is hardly a producer of milk and dairy products with importation around $500-$600 million yearly.

“We will improve our selection scheme for dairy buffaloes by integrating DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) markers. This is our future direction,” said Herrera.

The high-tech breeding program is anticipated to reduce the time by which a milk-producing bull may be identified as superior. Bulls can already be identified as superior milk producer when these are two to three years old instead of six to eight years old.

And the cost of breeding can be reduced by at least 50 percent. Cost of test for progeny (to determine offspring’s milking ability) alone is placed at 150,000 rand (P664,257) per bull by the Agricultural Research Council-Animal Production Institute.

PCC’s work on “Buffalo DNA Markers Associated with Milk Yield and its Implications to PCC Buffalo Breeding” led by PCC Executive Director Libertado C. Cruz was presented at the Bureau of Agricultural Research’s (BAR) National Research Symposium (NRS).

“We are supporting the promotion of excellent technologies through our NRS as venue since technologies like this molecular marker technique can in the future help us improve genetic quality dairy animals,” said BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.

The Philippines infused purebred dairy buffaloes from Bulgaria as early as 1995 and from Brazil in 2010. These animals are used as source of genetic materials for crossbreeding the native animals to improve milk production potential.

Traditionally, a good milking cow can be identified based on two to three lactation (milk production) records. That takes six to seven years. From selected cows, candidate semen donor bulls are subjected to progeny (offspring) testing, determining the production performance of the daughters.

It is important to identify the superior bull as its semen will be used to cause through artificial insemination the reproduction of female offspring with high milk production ability.

That takes a long time since the bull should be old enough to generate the female offspring.

DNA markers

Combined with lactation records of animals, PCC is using DNA markers to identify animals with favorable genotypes. The DNA marker is based on what is called single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs).

SNPs, pronounced snips, represents a genetic variation in the DNA building block that may indicate a particular difference of one animal from another.

In this case, what is being looked for are genes believed to be linked with high milking ability and its related components.

“We’re identifying water buffalo SNPs based on candidate genes from cattle that are associated with milk yield and milk component traits—milk fat and protein content,” said Herrera.

PCC scientists–also including Amie S. Villanueva and Jennifer F. Maramba— identified selected genes earlier found in cattle to be associated with milk production trait. The cattle’s genome information has earlier been made the basis for this study since the buffalo genome is closely related to the cattle.

For some time, the buffalo genome had not yet been sequenced. However, the International Buffalo Genome Consortium (IBGC) of which the Philippines is a member country, has completed the buffalo genome sequence in 2012.

Primer design

The researchers worked on a primer design and optimization of 114 DNA markers.

PCC has to optimize primers first in the task of finding target molecular markers. Primers are short chemically-synthesized oligonucleotides needed for DNA replication.

In the process of identifying animals with genes linked with high milk production, researchers also had to select unrelated cows. These cows come from the extremes of the population – not only those that have high but those with medium and extremely low milk production – just to make sure the gene is certainly identified only with high milking ability.

It had to discard markers that obviously did not have association with milk production.

But for those markers highly perceived to point to the gene of importance, it had to further test the presence of this gene on actual animals– a larger number of animals at that.

After having found 17 SNPs to have high association with high milk production, PCC studied the genotype—genetic makeup of a cell or organism such as of carabao– of 350 animals to determine if they have these SNPs.

Milk SNP markers

PCC found out that the “combined effect of three SNP markers found in betalactoglobulin, protease inhibitor, and prolactin receptor genes have favorable association with milk yield, fat yield, protein yield, milk protein, and milk fat percentages,” Herrera said.

After checking that bulls have the SNPs for good milk yield, these bulls are sent to bull farm for semen collection. PCC maintains semen collection facilities at PCC at University of the Philippines Los Banos campus and at PCC at Central Luzon State University campus.

Their semens are used in artificial insemination to aid in the reproduction of daughters that will produce more milk. High milk production in dairy carabaos indicate milk harvest of 10 liters or more per day per cow.

Other applications

The initial success in using molecular markers to identify good breeds for milk production can in the future have an impact in related animal production functions.

The same techniques can be applied in determining high milking ability in goat or dairy cattle or in determining good meat traits in beef cattle.

But there are prerequisites to its application in other dairy animal types and uses.

“You need a baseline for a national program on genomics’ application in other animals such as for goat, dairy cattle, or beef cattle,” he said.

The country has also to train more people in the analysis of DNA information through the use of facilities such as microarray equipment.

PCC now sources through private company Affymetrics the SNP chips which are a product of the IBGC buffalo genome sequencing.

Instead of the analysis being done just one after the other for each of the 17 SNPs, this chip can analyze thousands of SNPs at the same time.

In this project, around 50,000 SNPs are involved, and 1,000 to 2000 animals with performance data.

Supporting this genomics project are the aDepartment of Agriculture Biotechnology Program, PL 480 program, and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic Forestry Natural Resources Research and Development.

Dairy animal inventory

According to the National Dairy Administration (NDA), the Philippines has an inventory of 40,696 dairy animals. This produced 18.45 million liters of raw milk last year, up by 12 percent from 2011. Milk sufficiency is 40 percent, and the NDA wants to raise this to 43 percent in 2016 and eventually 100 percent in 2021.

Unfortunately, local milk production accounts for just an estimated two percent of the country’s total yearly dairy requirement as consumption grows briskly. It imports the rest of its requirement from New Zealand, the United States, Australia, and France.

NDA estimates that in order to supply the country’s dairy needs, one million dairy animals should be raised. NDA reported that government imported in 2012 a total of 10 bulls and 2, 100 female cows for breeding.

Government is also replicating more dairy farms. Dairy zones in the country are found in Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, and Cebu.

Farmgate price

Investors face good prospects in local milk production since farmgate price is tagged at an average of only P23 per liter while those that are labeled fresh milk in the retail market has a price of P80 to P100 per liter.

Aside from fresh milk, products in the dairy industry are flavored milk, mozzarella cheese now in demand in pizza restaurants, native cheese, processed cheese, candies, ice cream, and yogurt.


Melody Mendoza Aguiba
Mendoza Aguiba & Co
Product & Cause Media Campaigner
Mobile Phones: 0920-715-7186, 0916-266-6604

For any questions, please call Dr. Libertado C. Cruz, PCC executive director, 0917-891-2655, Mr. Rommel Herrera, 0915-714-4314; for related interview requests, 0916-266-6604