It was one year ago in January, on a warm winter afternoon, a newborn calf with a unique pedigree took her first breath in a small shed tucked in The National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI). From the outside, she looked no different from thousands of other calves born each winter on surrounding farms. But Mahima, as name given to her and the world soon came to realize, is no ordinary calf. She was born to a cloned buffalo with hand- guided cloning technique, overturning long-held scientific dogma that had declared such a thing was biologically impossible. Her birth set off a race in laboratories around the world to duplicate the breakthrough.
Today, Mahima has completed one year. She is growing normally without any special care and she is not different from other animals. She weighed 335 kg as recorded in January. While her mother, Garima-II, is in her first lactation and has completed one year, weighing 570 kg with total lactation yield of 1748 kg. In her peak lactation she gives 9.50 kg milk per day.
NDRI, in Haryana, is a constituent of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), globally known for its pioneering pursuits in dairy science and education. It is a front-runner in cloning cattle and biotechnology research through completive indulgence and cohesive team work. NDRI is working on many other projects; one among them is cloning of wild buffaloes, sponsored by the Government of Chhattisgarh.
Dozens of animals like Shreth, male calf Swaran, and Karan-Kirti buffalo have been cloned by NDRI and it reckons that many more are in the pipeline. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they are all, in one way or another, defective.
Garima was born through the hand guided cloning technique. It is an advanced modification of the conventional cloning technique that requires expensive micromanipulator machines. In this technique immature oocytes are isolated and matured in-vitro (in a test tube). These are then denuded, treated with an enzyme to digest the outer covering called ‘zona pellucida’ and then treated with chemicals to push their genetic material to one side. This side is then cut off with the help of a hand-held fine microblade to remove the genetic material. The enucleated oocyte is then electrofused with a somatic cell taken from any source. The resulting embryos are cultured and grown in the laboratory for about seven days to develop them to the blastocyst stage. The embryos are then transferred to recipient buffaloes for producing cloned offspring.
With this successful cloning, we have entered into an era of simplified method of cloning buffaloes which will enhance our capabilities to foster multiplication of elite buffalo stock. And Mahima turning one year has done the icing on the cake.
When asked about how far the technology will benefit, Dr. MS Chauhan, principal scientist at NDRI, states, "This technology is going to greatly benefit the society, especially farmers. No doubt the progeny born will have to be tested for their normalcy status in terms of their normal development, health and survivability. Once this is done, the acute shortage of pedigreed buffaloes will be over come in the country. The hand guided cloning will, in a long way, face the challenges of increasing demand of milk in view of growing human population in the country."
Cloning animal is generally a tedious process and it requires several attempts until it proves to be a success. Clones make from skin cells may help revive endangered species, but some experts say cloning is the wrong solution to the problem. But what NDRI has accomplished is something truly remarkable. We hope that NDRI would do something more in the field of cloning which would be useful to human lives.