Work on pig genome may help with human medicine

WASHINGTON — An international team of scientists has completed the first draft of the genome of a domesticated pig. This first draft sequence will spur advancements in swine production and human medicine.

"Understanding the swine genome will lead to health advancements in the swine population and accelerate the development of vaccinations for pigs," said Roger Beachy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. "This new insight into the genetic makeup of the swine population can help reduce disease and enable medical advancements in both pigs and humans."

At 98 percent complete, the draft sequence 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.

"The pig is a unique animal that is important for food and that is used as an animal model for human disease," added Larry Schook of the University of Illinois in Champaign, who helped direct the project.

The pandemic H1N1 swine flu virus originated in pigs and evidence suggests it can be passed from humans to pigs and back again. Pigs are also susceptible to many other strains of influenza.

NIFA, previously the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, provided the $10 million in funding in 2006 to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The total cost was about $24.3 million, with additional support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and various American, Asian and European funders.

UIUC selected a red-haired Duroc pig from a farm at the university to use for the sequencing project. The Duroc now will be among the growing list of domesticated animals that have had their genomes sequenced. Researchers announced the achievement Nov. 3 at a conference at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, England.