Pig Genome Sequenced: Offers Significant Implications Abroad
November 14, 2012

Pig Genome Sequenced Offering Significant Implications Abroad

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A massive team of international researchers has announced the successful sequencing of the first female domestic pig´s genome.

There have already been many similarities established between pigs and humans and the new genomic analysis reveals some new twists and a few distinctions to that relationship, according to reports on the work published in the journals Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"It is exciting that the genomic sequence of the domestic pig now is in the public domain and available to enable more powerful approaches to domestic swine and pork improvement," said Ronnie Green, from University of Nebraska and an early supporter of the pig genome sequencing project at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). "It will also aid efforts to use the pig as a model for biomedical research and the improvement of human health."

Besides having utilitarian implications, the project also told the story of the pig by comparing it to the known genetic code of wild boars that originated in Southeast Asia about 4 million years ago. The genetic analysis showed that domestication of these animals started nearly 10,000 years ago, across various parts of Europe and Asia.

Wild boars bred with pigs throughout their domestication, but the two groups of pigs have maintained many distinct features. Domesticated pigs have a considerably longer back, and therefore more vertebrae. Researchers from Uppsala University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) that were involved in the project identified three gene regions that form the genetic basis for this difference. They also found that two of the regions correspond to genes that influence variation in body length in humans.

The researchers also compared the genome to the genetic codes of other mammals and found that the immune response genes are rapidly evolving. They also found several places where pig genes resembled human genes that are associated with disease, such as diabetes or Alzheimer's. These discoveries extend the potential of pigs to shed light on both viral and genetic diseases.

One pig genome that was sequenced, the Wuzhishan pig, could provide additional advantages for medical science. Due to its small size and long history of inbreeding, these pigs are easy to handle and have a population composed of mostly genetically identical individuals.

Because the Wuzhishan pig shares several diseases with humans, its genome will provide a wealth of genetic information that will allow a detailed analysis on how the animal reacts to human drug target genes.

In addition to being a wealth of information for scientists, the sequencing of domestic pig genomes has a more practical purpose. The food industry could also stand to benefit from any information that might enable the raising of pigs to combat hunger across the developing world.

"Pork is the most popular of all meats to eat and with a growing global population we need to improve the sustainability of food production,” said professor Alan Archibald, of The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh. “The improved knowledge of pigs' genetic make-up should help us breed healthier and more productive animals."