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The Genetic Code of the Pig has Been Broken

07 December 2012

DENMARK - Researchers at Aarhus University have played an important role in the mapping of the pig genome. The results have far-reaching practical implications for pig research and breeding and are an important building block for research into human diseases.

Aarhus University
Photo: Colourbox

Ta-daa – here it is: the map of the entire pig genome. Collaboration between research groups from Aarhus University and a large number of other universities and research institutes from all over the world has resulted in the sequencing and description of the whole pig genome. The results have been published in the science journal Nature.

"It has been a question of understanding the genome in its entirety so that it can subsequently be used both in research and in breeding," says research professor Christian Bendixen, who leads one of the research groups at Aarhus University that was involved in the project.

The pig genome is the entire genetic code – a sort of blueprint for the pig. By having the detailed information on the genome, researchers will acquire a better understanding of the pig’s ancestry and history and an almost infinite number of factors that can affect pig health, disease and production traits.

Detailed knowledge of the pig genome is also of particular help and an important tool for the researchers who use the pig as a model for human diseases, which is one of the areas in which researchers at Aarhus University also excel. The pig is already used for research into hereditary diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, psoriasis and cancer.

Professor in medical genetics, Lars Bolund, who is one of the originators of the project, is also involved in the development of the private Chinese non-profit research organisation Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), that has carried out a great deal of the genetic mapping now published in Nature. Parallel to this work BGI and Lars Bolund have also carried out a comparative study of the genetic material of a medically interesting inbred Chinese mini-pig, Wu Zhi Shan. This work has been published in the scientific journal GigaScience concurrently with the Nature article.

Researchers from Aarhus University have also been heavily involved in the section of the work that involved sequencing genes – the molecular sequence annotation – of more than 21,000 protein-coding genes.

They have also helped describe the millions of genetic variants that can be found in the genome. This work will enable researchers to better understand the historical development of the pig, the function of specific genes and how the genes affect pig characteristics such as resistance to disease, meat quality or feed use efficiency.

"Data from the very long and very extensive investigations from the research consortium are now freely available and can be used by research communities anywhere," says Christian Bendixen.

The Danish part of the work on the mapping of the pig genome was funded, amongst others, by the research councils, the Advanced Technology Foundation and the Pig Research Centre.

The article in Nature on the mapping of the pig genome can be found here.

ThePigSite News Desk

Aarhus University

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