Genomics and Its Application to the Swine Industry

CANADA - Genomics is the study of an organism’s genome, or all of its genes. This has become possible with advances in molecular genetic and computational technology, writes Dr Nick Boddicker for Genesus.
calendar icon 2 September 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

Determining an animal’s complete genome sequence is not economically feasible in the swine industry. However, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are locations in the genome where DNA variation is present across individuals. SNPs are genomic tools that are being used in the swine and other industries.

Genomics is playing a critical role in further understanding the genetic architecture for many economically important traits. Genome-wide association analyses are designed to identify SNPs that affect the trait of interest. These analyses are particularly useful for complex traits (e.g. resistance to pathogens), lowly heritable traits (e.g. reproductive performance), traits measured later in life (grow to finish average daily feed intake), and traits that cannot be measured on selection candidates (e.g. carcass and meat quality). Once SNPs associated with these traits are identified, they can be incorporated into the genetic program.

Traditional genetic evaluation uses pedigree information and performance records of the selection candidate and its relatives to estimate the breeding value (EBV) of the animal, which is ultimately used to make selection decisions. EBVs are associated with a measurement of accuracy, which is a driver of genetic improvement. Through genomics, EBVs can be estimated using SNP in addition to pedigree and performance information (genomic estimated breeding values). These EBVs are typically associated with higher accuracies compared to traditional EBVs for the same trait. Finally, the use of genomics allows for selection or pre-selection of animals at a younger age. Selection of animals at younger ages ultimately increases genetic gain.

Genesus has invested in the genomics area and currently has projects examining the use of SNPs in the genetic improvement of carcass and meat quality, sow feed intake and efficiency, feed efficiency and pig health. Additionally, development of genetic evaluation systems incorporating both genomic, pedigree and performance information are a focus of Genesus investment. Application of genomic technology will enhance the Genesus genetic improvement program thereby increasing genetic value for our customers.

In summary, genomics is an additional tool that can be used to enhance genetic progress. Routinely genotyping animals for 60,000 SNPs was not feasible a decade ago, but it is today and our knowledge of the interaction between complex traits and genes has greatly increased. Genomic technology is constantly improving, which means methods for genetic selection and genetic gain will constantly improve. The ultimate goal of increasing genetic improvement will result in enhanced value for Genesus customers.

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