Reproduction in Farm Animals in an Era of Rapid Genetic Change

Genetic selection in today's pigs swine has produced larger-than-expected changes in the physiology of the sow and her offspring, according to Dr Foxcroft of the University of Alberta. He expects new technologies to help restore the balance in pork production in future.
calendar icon 15 August 2012
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Compared with other domestic species, genetic nucleus selection has gradually increased both prolificacy and productivity of the breeding sow and the post-natal growth performance of commercial progeny, according to Dr George Foxcroft of the University of Alberta in Canada, speaking at the 17th International Congress on Animal Reproduction (ICAR).

In his paper published in a special issue of Reproduction in Domestic Animals, he writes that increasing variation in litter birth weight and foetal development, however, may be indirect consequences of interactions among multiple genes controlling prolificacy and prenatal development.

Phenotypic plasticity in the litter phenotype also results from effects of sow metabolic state on the developing embryo.

New genomic tools may provide the opportunity to better balance the selection of genes controlling the component traits affecting the size and quality of litters born, particularly in multiparous sows.

Overall, according to Dr Foxcroft, it is probably fair to conclude that the last two decades of genetic selection in swine have produced changes on the physiology of the sow and her offspring that might have been predicted but were not expected to be as profound as they now appear to be. However, by adopting a closer interaction among biologists, geneticists and commercial production systems as we move into the ‘-omic’ era of biology, it should be possible to make rapid progress in achieving a more balanced and economically advantageous outcome for pork production enterprises.


Foxcroft, G.R. 2012. Reproduction in farm animals in an era of rapid genetic change: Will genetic change outpace our knowledge of physiology? Reproduction in Domestic Animals, 47: Issue Supplement s4,313–319. DOI:10.1111/j.1439-0531.2012.02091.x

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August 2012
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