x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Camel gene register may lead to cures

It could lead to camels that give more milk, run faster, and even help treat human diseases.

Camels are important animals, they can benefit human life, says Dr Khazanehdari.
Camels are important animals, they can benefit human life, says Dr Khazanehdari.

DUBAI // A new genetic registry for camels could help identify specific traits in the animals and allow more effective breeding.

The Central Veterinary Research Laboratory and the Dubai Camel Racing Club have started working on a stock-book for camels to be able easily to discern potential qualities in their genes.

It could lead to camels that give more milk, run faster, and even help treat human diseases.

Dr Kamal Khazanehdari, head of the lab's molecular biology and genetics section, said: "In the longterm, it can benefit the industry as a whole.

"Not just for racing but any other trait like their milk and meat, all the qualities you can look for in camel-breeding. If you have a registry, you can follow the genetic background or the pedigree."

So the racing club is working with the lab to achieve that. "You need to have the camels identifiable through genotyping or microchipping," said Dr Khazanehdari.

The registry will chart each animal's bloodline, to work out its potential strengths.

A similar process has been used for cattle, Arabian horses and dogs but, until now, not camels.

Dr Khazanehdari said: "Camels are important animals, they can benefit human life. Their milk has a good quantity of antibodies in it, it comes out homogenised so there is no fat and it has insulin-like molecules in it."

That means it may be used to help treat diabetes.

"It's a starting point, studying these factors would provide a lot more information and hopefully benefit us and the community."

Camels could even help treat other diseases, thanks to their strong immunity. Dromedaries are resistant to foot-and-mouth, a contagious viral infection that affects cattle, sheep and goats through fever and blisters in the mouth and feet.

"The antibodies which they raise are unique," said Dr Khazanehdari. "Camels have the ability to resist a lot of diseases and conditions."

So far, more than 6,000 camels are registered with the lab. "We're going to [register] many more this year," said Dr Khazanehdari.

The lab also works with the club to stop banned camels from racing in Dubai. Sudanese camels are not allowed to race against local camels, or Mahali, in Dubai, as they are too fast, while cross-bred camels have to enter separate races.

Although the lab experienced a few hiccups at first, its DNA tests are now running smoothly. "No one else can beat us in this, I believe, it's been very efficient."

Now the challenge is to get the message out about the potential of DNA testing. "DNA testing can be used in forms of verifying the paternity test and the camel's breed," said Dr Khazanehdari. "It is[a struggle] for people to understand the benefits and it's still ongoing.

"Camels are not explored scientifically to the degree they should, but we are in the process of exploring their genome further," he said.

cmalek@thenational.ae