A global collaborative has produced a first draft of the genome of a domesticated pig, an achievement that will lead to new 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.
"The pig is a unique animal that is important for food and that is used as an animal model for human disease," explains 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."
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 was a collaborative effort involving an international team of scientists and genome sequencing centers. The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), formerly the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, provided an initial $10 million in funding, requiring that this be the only pig genome-sequencing project in the world, that it be a public-private partnership and a global collaborative effort, with significant financial or "in-kind" support from the other participating agencies and stakeholders.
The effort cost about $24.3 million, with additional support from the USDA Agricultural Research Service and many other American, Asian and European partners. Another requirement of participation was that the findings be made public, with no proprietary interests allowed.
The draft sequence, which is about 98% 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, behavior and nutritional needs.