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DNA insights could help breed healthier pigs

The most accurate map of the genetic code of pigs ever produced paves the way to more precise agriculture and biomedical research.

The study paves the way to enhanced selective breeding and identification of genetic similarities between pigs and humans.

Scientists have decoded the whole genetic make-up of pigs – known as their genome – in a development that will facilitate the discovery of genetic variations linked to key traits.

The findings could help improve selective breeding and enable more accurate use of gene-editing technologies to develop pigs with desired characteristics, such as resistance to infectious diseases, the researchers say.

Knowledge of the genome also enables identification of genetic similarities between pigs and humans, which will enhance biomedical research in which pigs are used as models to study human health.

The study was led by scientists at the Roslin Institute and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service Meat Animal Research Center, and involved 40 scientists from 15 laboratories in the UK and US.

Latest technology

The new reference genome, which was built using the latest cutting-edge DNA sequencing technologies, provides information on the location of more than 21,000 pig genes and is freely available online.

The improved quality of the reference allowed the researchers to identify a further 2,500 pig genes with an evolutionary link to a human gene, increasing the known number of such genes to 15,500.

The scientists characterised the genomes of two different pigs – a sow from the Duroc breed and a male crossbred white composite boar, and included detailed information of a further 11 pigs from European and Asian breeds.

It’s a very exciting time to work in genomics. Genomes as complete as the ones we have produced would not have been possible without recent major advances in DNA sequencing technologies. The new reference genome provides scientists around the world with an accurate and complete framework on which to base their pig research, whereas before they were working with a very incomplete picture.

Dr Amanda WarrRoslin Institute

Pork is the most popular of all meats and, with a growing global population, we need to improve the sustainability of food production. The improved knowledge of pigs’ genetic make-up will help farmers breed healthier and more productive animals.

Professor Alan ArchibaldUK study lead and Personal Chair of Mammalian Molecular Genetics, Roslin Institute

The results of the study, which was funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the US Department of Agriculture, the Wellcome Trust and the Roslin Foundation, are published in the journal GigaScience.

** The Roslin Institute is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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