U.S. researchers sequence pig genome

A team of researchers won a US$10 million (Ђ8.25 million) federal grant to provide the first complete sequence of the swine genome a genetic map they say could help farmers produce better hogs, give consumers tastier pork and ultimately benefit human health. University of Illinois professors Lawrence Schook and John Beever last summer completed a side-by-side comparison of the pig and human genomes. They will head a project involving researchers at other U.S. universities, the government and laboratories in France and England. The project is expected to be completed within two years at a cost of about US$20 million (Ђ16.5 million), Schook said. "Pork is the major red meat consumed worldwide," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a news release announcing the grant. "With more than 61 million pigs in the nation, the sequence of the pig genome will have a significant impact on U.S. agriculture."

Deciphering the pig's genetic code to learn how each gene lines up on a DNA molecule will eventually help breed better pigs, said Max Rothschild, an Iowa State University animal science professor who is one of seven project directors. He said that because pig and human genetics have many similarities, it could give researchers better tools for fighting human afflictions such as diabetes, obesity or heart disease.

"The ultimate beneficiary of the pig genome project is really not the pork producer, it's the consumer," Rothschild said. The genetic material for the sequencing comes from a female Duroc pig that was raised on the South Farms at the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus. It will involve deciphering the 2.5 billion chemical base pairs that spell out the animal's genetic code.

Besides the grant, the researchers have commitments for money from organizations in France, Korea, the Netherlands and Britain. The Clive, Iowa-based National Pork Board and several state pork-producer associations also will contribute about US$1 million (Ђ820,000), said Mark Boggess, the pork board's director of animal science.

"Virtually everything we do with pork production will be impacted by this genome work," Boggess said. "We'll thoroughly understand the biology involved with the way things are genetically and then we can apply management, selection and nutrition programs to fit", reports the AP. N.U.