$10 Million Awarded for Sequencing Pig Genome

URBANA - The United States Department of Agriculture has awarded the University of Illinois $10 million to provide the initial genome sequence of the pig. U of I animal geneticists, Lawrence Schook and Jonathan Beever recently created a side-by-side comparison of the human and pig genomes and are excited that they will now be able to take that research to the next level. Schook, Beever and Bruce Schatz from the Department of Medical Information science at the U of I will coordinate the project.
calendar icon 16 January 2006
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"After many years of laying the foundation for sequencing of the pig genome it is truly rewarding to see our dreams of a porcine sequence come true," said Beever. "The implications will help tremendously in the swine industry, but will also have biomedical importance as well, such as pig-to-human transplants."

"This is the ultimate comparison," said Schook, who will serve as director on the project. "We've had the pieces for the human genome and the pig in a side-by-side comparison. But now we'll be able to see how the various proteins in the genes work together to make for example a human toe nail as opposed to a pig hoof." Schook explained that although there are remarkable similarities between the pig and the human, they are also very different. "There may be two or three percent of the genome that actually determine whether the organism becomes a pig or a human. This information will show those differences."

Schook explained that the scale of this project is huge. "Picture a million test tubes. We're looking at something that has 2.5 billion pieces and only 500 can be done at time. Each time takes a couple of hours to do. So, if we used the labs at the U of I, it would take us about 10 years of just doing this non-stop to complete. Having the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K. do the labor-intensive work is the only realistic option. They have the labs and infrastructure to do this kind of work on a big scale."

U of I Animal genetists, Jonathan Beever and Lawrence Schook discuss their work on the pig genome.
The pig genome is approximately the same size as the human genome -- about 2.5 billion base pairs located on 18 chromosomes, plus the two sex chromosomes. Sequencing of the human genome took almost 10 years and cost approximately $3 billion. "The robotic sequencing technologies and bioinformatics developed from the Human Gene Initiative will permit the same draft sequence for the pig to be concluded in just two years at a cost of $20 million," said Schook. He said the work will be completed five times faster and at 1/150th the cost. This phase of the project is scheduled to be completed in 24 months, coincidentally, just in time for 2007 Chinese year of the pig.

The $10 million from USDA will pay for half of the total needed for the project. Because this information will belong to the public, Schook said that it's important for other institutions to provide monetary ownership to the project as well.

U.S. Representative Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, the only member of the Illinois delegation on the House Agriculture Committee, said he was pleased to work on the behalf of the University of Illinois researchers. "There is a reason Illinois was chosen for this award," said Johnson. "The researchers at the University of Illinois have been singled out to receive this award because of demonstrated expertise and vision in the area of livestock sequencing. They are the bridge between the lab and the livestock. Their work in this area has timely and promising implications for livestock safety, productivity and public health, both for the state and the nation."

Schook said the International Swine Genomic Sequencing Consortium is working with the Alliance for Animal Genome Research and has begun to receive additional funding commitments in France, Korea, Holland, and the UK and from the U.S. National Pork Board and state pork associations. Schook said, "The foundations provided by the USDA towards this historic project will stimulate others to contribute towards the draft sequence."

Several other institutions are collaborating with the U of I including: Roslin Institute, Scotland; University of Nevada, Reno; Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, United Kingdom; The French National Institute for Agricultural Research Cellular Genetics Laboratory, France; United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service Meat Animal Research Center, Nebraska; and Iowa State University.

Other contributing investigators came from Iowa State University, University of Minnesota, University of Nevada-Reno, Roslin Institute, ARS-USDA, INRA-Toulouse, and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

More information is available at www.swinegenomics.com.

Source: ACES News - 16th January 2006

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