Pig Genome Sequencing Could Advance Human, Animal Health

22 November 2012, at 1:10pm

GLOBAL - An international scientific collaboration that includes researchers from Kansas State University, US and the University of Durham, UK, is providing new insights into pig domestication, the movements of early humans and is bringing home the bacon when it comes to potential animal and human health advancements, thanks to successfully mapping the genome of the domestic pig.

Kansas State University researchers say the sequenced genome gives researchers a genetic blueprint of the pig. It includes a complete list of DNA and genes that give pigs their traits like height and color. Once all of the genetic information is understood, scientists anticipate improvements to the animal's health as well as human health, as pigs and humans share similar physiologies.

"With the sequenced genome we have a better blueprint than we had before about the pig's genetics and how those genetic mechanisms work together to create, such as the unique merits in disease resistance," said Yongming Sang, research assistant professor of anatomy and physiology at Kansas State University.

For three years, Sang worked on the genome sequencing project with Frank Blecha, associate dean for the College of Veterinary Medicine and university distinguished professor of anatomy and physiology. The sequencing effort was led by the Swine Genome Sequencing Consortium.

Analysis revealed that the olfactory and cathelicidin gene families in pigs are more evolutionarily evolved than those in humans and many other animals. Pigs have a better sense of smell, which makes them experts at finding truffles, for example. Pigs also have twice as many interferon genes as humans, possibly indicating some unique immune mechanisms against viral infection, Sang said.

Researchers also discovered several health similarities between humans and pigs. Pigs share some of the same protein abnormalities as humans with obesity, diabetes, dyslexia, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Similarly, researchers found that pigs have fewer endogenous retroviruses than many other animals, making pigs an important ally for more complex medical procedures like organ transplants.

Durham University researchers compared the genome or genetic make-up of domestic pigs with those of wild boars – from which domestic pigs are descended.

Their study found significant genetic differences between wild boar from Asia and Europe, which split from a common ancestor around a million years ago.

These differences are also reflected in the genes of current day Western and Chinese breeds of domestic pigs, confirming that pigs were independently domesticated in western Eurasia and East Asia.

Dr Greger Larson, in the Department of Archaeology, at Durham University, said the new research would provide opportunities to further understand the process and pattern of pig domestication, which could ultimately shed new light on the movements of early humans.