An international consortium of scientists has published a high resolution genome reference sequence of the pig. The research, published in the journal Nature today, will help to unlock new ways of improving the health of animals and humans in the future.
The genetic makeup of domestic pigs was compared to those of ten wild boars - from which domestic pigs aredescended. Researchers found important genetic differences between wild boar from Asia and Europe, which split from a common ancestor around a million years ago. These differences were also identified in genes of modern Western and Chinese breeds of domesticated pigs, adding weight to the theory that pigs were domesticated in western Eurasia and East Asia. This improved understanding of the genetic differences that developed through domestication, will help to inform future breeding programmes.
By comparing 21,000 genes identified in pigs with their counterparts in human, mice, dogs, horse and cows, it has emerged that the immune response genes used to fight infection are rapidly evolving in pigs. Furtherunderstanding of the fundamental biology of these genes and how and why they have evolved more rapidly, could help direct future breeding to improve pig health and the ability to fight disease.
Several examples were identified where the pig genes shared similarities with the form of gene identified in humans that have also been linked with diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s. These findings demonstrate the potential of pigs as a biomedical model to provide a beneficial insight into common complex human diseases. Analysis from this study also gives an insight into the genes that enable high quality pork production, which can help producers in future breed high quality swine, with improved sustainability and at lower cost.
The study also provides an explanation for the renowned ability for pigs to seek out truffles, picking out their signature scent amongst the complex scents of a woodland floor and locating them underground. With 1,301 unique olfactory receptor genes, the pig has more genes than have been identified in human, dog or mouse, but similar numbers to those in the rat. This highlights the importance of a heightened sense of smell in scavenging animals.
Dr Mario Caccamo, Head of Bioinformatics (TGAC), who joined the project whilst at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, led the assembly of the pig genome sequence and is one of the primary authors on the Nature paper. Dr Caccamo said “The publication of the swine genome reference today is the culmination of a great team effort involving a large consortium of scientists from across the world. Our contribution at TGAC was focused on the generation of the final sequence assembly in collaboration with colleagues at the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI).”
Professor Jane Rogers, Director of TGAC contributed to the initiation of the project and led the mapping and sequencing programme whilst at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Professor Rogers said “From the outset, this genome project was developed with the technical challenges in mind, to provide a resource that would enable researchers to use the genome to make comparisons between the genes in pigs and humans that are involved in health, for example, genes involved in infectious disease defence mechanisms. Whilst the genome is not complete, it provides an excellent foundation for such work and I hope researchers around the world will use and continue to improve it over time”.
The study, published in Nature was led by scientists at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wageningen University and the University of Illinois.
The International Swine Genome Sequencing Consortium is comprised of researchers from more than 40 institutes in 12 countries and was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, the European Commission, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Wellcome Trust and pig industry groups in Europe and the United States.
The full publication can be read here.
The Genome Analysis Centre is a vibrant, contemporary research institute and registered charity (Charity No. 1136213) working in an area of rapid technological development and innovation.
TGAC is strategically funded by The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to lead the development of a skill base in bioinformatics and a genomics technology platform for UK bioscience. TGAC was set up in 2009 with capital and revenue funding from BBSRC in collaboration with Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council, South Norfolk Council and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership and are TGAC’s Patrons. TGAC has now secured funding from BBSRC for the next 3 years of over £19 Million with indicated level going into 2017.
The Institute is located on the Norwich Research Park, together with its partners: the John Innes Centre, the Institute of Food Research, The Sainsbury Laboratory, the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. The research park has an excellent reputation for research in plant and microbial sciences, interdisciplinary environmental science and food, diet and health, to which TGAC contributes strengths in genomics and bioinformatics.
TGAC is a UK hub for innovative Bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. This has been boosted recently by an e-Infrastructure grant to expand the data storage capacity to a multi-petabyte unit, deploying a high performance cluster and large-memory server enabling the allocation of processes requiring several terabytes of computing memory.
TGAC’s state of the art DNA sequencing facility operates multiple complementary technologies for data generation that
provide the foundation for analyses furthering our fundamental understanding of genomes and how they function. We aim to be at the forefront of technological advances and are developing and implementing technologies to generate and analyse new types of data. We also develop novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing
capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational bioscience.
TGAC has one fully owned subsidiary, Genome Enterprise Ltd (GEL) via which it offers genomic and bioinformatics
services on a trading basis and works with commercial providers on a partnership basis. TGAC also receives specific funding to enable knowledge exchange programmes which are supported across the institute teams.
For more information about TGAC see www.tgac.ac.uk
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