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Scientists produce first draft of pig genome

2 November 2009

A global collaboration, supported in the UK in part by BBSRC, has produced a first draft of the genome of a domesticated pig, an achievement that will lead to insights in agriculture, medicine, conservation and evolution.

A red-haired Duroc pig from a farm at the University of Illinois will now be among the growing list of domesticated animals that have had their genomes sequenced. Researchers will announce the achievement today (2 November) at a meeting at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

“The pig is a unique animal that is important for food and that is used as an animal model for human disease,” said Larry Schook, a University of Illinois professor of biomedical sciences and leader of the sequencing project. “And because the native wild animals are still in existence, it is a really exciting animal to look at to learn about the genomic effects of domestication,” he said.

UK scientists have contributed to both the sequencing, conducted primarily at the Sanger Institute, and to annotation of the genome (funded by BBSRC), by the Ensembl team at the Sanger Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute and The Roslin Institute. BBSRC provided support for the UK contribution to the multinational effort through research grant funding and core support to The Roslin Institute. Support for a first sequencing of the pig genome was a key recommendation of a review of BBSRC’s farm animal genomics research in 2005.

“This is a great day for the pig research community,” said Professor Alan Archibald, of The Roslin Institute, “When we launched the international pig gene mapping project almost 20 years ago, few if any of us thought a pig genome sequence was attainable or affordable.”

The Duroc is one of five major breeds used in pork production around the world and is one of about 200 breeds of domesticated pigs. There are also numerous varieties of wild boar, the non-domesticated pigs that are believed to have originated in Eurasia.

The sequencing project involved an international team of scientists and genome-sequencing centres. The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture provided $10 million in initial funding. The effort cost about $24.3 million, with additional support from the USDA Agricultural Research Service and other international funders.  

The draft sequence, which is about 98 percent complete, will allow researchers to pinpoint genes that are useful to pork production or are involved in immunity or other important physiological processes in the pig. It will enhance breeding practices, offer insight into diseases that afflict pigs (and, sometimes, also humans) and will assist in efforts to preserve the global heritage of rare, endangered and wild pigs. It also will be important for the study of human health because pigs are very similar to humans in their physiology, behaviour and nutritional needs.

“We are excited to have the swine genome sequence and anticipate this will accelerate the rate of genetic improvement in swine as the bovine sequence is impacting the dairy industry’s genetic gains,” said Steve Kappes, deputy administrator of Animal Production and Protection for the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

The pig genome sequence is an essential first tool that will allow scientists to delve into the health, science and natural history of the pig, Schook said.

“This is just the end of the beginning of the process,” he said. “Now we’re just beginning to be able to answer a lot of questions about the pig.”

“We are delighted to have contributed to this important collaboration,” said Professor Allan Bradley, the director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which performed most of the sequencing. “This sequence provides a tool of real value in helping the research community to better understand human diseases, in particular by facilitating cardiovascular, pulmonary, gastrointestinal and immunological studies. Thanks to the immediate release of sequence data as it has been produced, the scientific impact of this research is already being felt.”

In addition to the USDA funding and BBSRC supporting in the UK, funding and technical support were provided by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche; European Union SABRE; the Institute for Pig Genetics, Netherlands; INRA Genescope, France; Iowa Pork Producers Association; Iowa State University; Korean National Livestock Research Institute; National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Japan; National Pork Board, U.S.; North Carolina Pork Council; North Carolina Agricultural Research Service; North Carolina State University; the University of Illinois; the UK-based Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh; the University of Illinois Livestock Genome Sequencing Initiative.

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