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, according to an announcement from The Roslin Institute in the U.K.
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 said.
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, Roslin said.
The study was led by scientists at The Roslin Institute and the Meat Animal Research Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and involved 40 scientists from 15 laboratories in the U.K. and U.S.
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 announcement said.
"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," explained Dr. Amanda Warr with Roslin and first author of the study, which was published in the journal GigaScience.
The scientists characterized 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.
"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," noted Roslin professor Alan Archibald, the U.K. study lead and personal chair of mammalian molecular genetics.
The study was funded by the U.K. Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, USDA, the Wellcome Trust and the Roslin Foundation.
Other institutions involved include the University of Cambridge, Iowa State University, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, the University of Kent, Pacific Biosciences, Denovium Inc., the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the University of Illinois.