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Apr 24, 2012

Cloning for Cashmere in India - 'Noori' is First GM Goat

Dr. Riaz Ahmad Shad with Noori,
the world's first Pashmina GM goat.
Photo: SKUAST, Kashmir, India
On 9 March 2012 Indian scientists at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST) in Kashmir successfully cloned "Noori," the first pashmina goat.  This is the animal that produces the famous ‘cashmere’ wool.  On the local level, this scientific feat is viewed as a potential boost to the regional economy, which is dependent on the weaving of pashmina shawls from cashmere wool.  In recent years, the demand for cashmere was grown but the number of pashmina goats has been shrinking.  Cashmere is made from the fine wool on goats' underbellies.  In order for this wool to grow, the goats must be carefully raised in the cold and windy Himalayan climate.

The making of pashmina shawls is a traditional cottage industry that has allowed Kashmir’s Muslim women to earn an income without working outside of their households.  Out of 7 million people in the Kashmir valley, approximately 15,000 households are involved in spinning and weaving.  The cashmere shawl industry generates an estimated US$85 million annually.

Prof. Riaz Ahmad Shah at SKUAST’s center of animal biotechnology spearheaded the "Noori" project with funding from the World Bank.  Simple biotechnology techniques were used and can be easily replicated to increase the number of GM goats.  One of the goals is the quickly develop "animals that can produce finer wool than that from the naturally existing Pashmina goat."

According to SKUAST the same GM technology that was used to create the first GM goat can be used to clone other Himalayan animals.  This includes the ‘chiru’ or Tibetan antelope which produces ‘shahtoosh’, a type of wool that is even more highly prized than cashmere.  Like cashmere, shahtoosh has traditionally been used to weave shawls.  However, it normally required four chiru pelts to create a shawl and a high demand for shahtoosh shawls as part of traditional wedding gifts endangered the chirus.  They are currently protected by the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and all trade in shahtoosh woven attire was banned nationally in 1991 and in the states of Jammu and Kashmir in 2000.

Chiru breeding is currently supported by SKUAST's wildlife management program, the Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species in Hyderabad and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.   Part of the work involves developing techniques to retrieve wool without killing the chiru.

In China, various interests have tried to replicate the pashimina shawls of Kashmir.  Certain woolen manufacturers in India's Punjabi cities of Amritsar and Ludhiana import wool from New Zealand and Australia and create products that they claim replicate Kashmir's pashmina shawls.  SKUAST plans to work with the local pashmina cottage industry in Kashmir to expand its authentic cashmere products.

For more see: 

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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