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SKUAST Scientists Researching on Gene Editing to Improve Pashmina Wool Yield

Twelve years after cloning the first Pashmina goat, 'Noorie,' scientists at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) are working on gene editing technologies to improve the yield of prized cashmere yarn.

KJ Staff
SKUAST Scientists Researching on Gene Editing to Improve Pashmina Wool Yield
SKUAST Scientists Researching on Gene Editing to Improve Pashmina Wool Yield

"Noorie died earlier this month after a life span comparable to that of a typical Pashmina goat. Yet, the SKUAST cloning team has not given up on enhancing animal quality. We recently submitted a few of projects to the ICAR. We are currently undertaking a project on gene editing of the same Pashmina goats, and we were able to make modified cloned embryos of these goats," said Dr. Riaz Ahmad Shah, Professor Cum Chief Scientist Animal Cloning Veterinary Sciences SKAUST- K.

The goal is to develop a cloned Pashmina goat with a modified genome. "The cloned modified goat will be born once we are able to transfer the edited genes to the recipients and create offspring. Our goal is simply to increase Pashmina (wool) production, so we have targeted a gene that will allow us to do so," Shah added.

In explaining the history of the cloning effort, Shah stated that it began in India with buffaloes at the National Dairy Institute of Karnal. "I was working for the PhD research programme in Karnal, where we were able to clone Buffalo, the first livestock clone created in India. Later, when I returned to my native department, we had an ICAR project with the main goal of producing clones of Pashmina goats," he explained.

According to him, the Pashmina goat is native to Ladakh and survives at high altitudes with little oxygen. "It took us nearly three years to standardize the procedure before we were able to develop 'Noorie,'" Shah remarked. The team of scientists was attached to Noorie since it was the first big animal cloning achievement at the SKUAST, but they are happy that it set the path for additional research in the subject. "Noorie's passing was particularly sad because she helped this department gain recognition." The Noorie project established a foundation for future studies such as this one (gene editing).

"The primary goal was to generate the value chain on cloned manufacturing," explained Abrar Malik, a PhD student. When Noorie appeared, Malik was an undergraduate student. "Dr. Riyaz oversaw the production of Noorie in 2012. I was studying for my UG at the time, and it was fascinating to me. That inspired me to pursue a career in biotechnology," Malik added. "Noorie died lately at the age of ten, which is usual. She had lost her teeth and was unable to eat properly. Therefore it was a natural death," the study expert explained.

When asked if cloning may be utilized to save endangered species such as the Hangul (Kashmir stag), Shah responded, "We haven't done it yet because for rare species, we need a recipient where we can transfer the embryos. We rely on the wildlife department for such recipients. Species such as Hangul are not available to them. However, we could have attempted there as well, but our major concentration is on livestock species.

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