16th January 2006


International Partnership to Sequence the Pig Genome

Two year $10 million project

Sow with piglet

An International Consortium announces today that it will produce a draft sequence of the genome of the domestic pig. The $10 million project, funded by the US Department of Agriculture, will take two years. The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute will lead the sequencing efforts.

The two-year project will lead to the development of new DNA-based tools to identify and select breeds of pig that resist infectious diseases and produce leaner cuts of meat for consumers. There is an increasing need to improve overall pig husbandry in terms of health, welfare and sustainability, as well as traceability, food quality and safety.

The pig genome sequence will provide an important resource for researchers studying the biology of the pig or using the pig as a model for understanding human genome biology to improve health. The pig occupies a unique position in biomedicine - the composition of insulin was first defined in pigs and pig insulin served for many years in the treatment of diabetics until genetically engineered human insulin was approved.

"We have developed the resources to produce, rapidly and efficiently, a draft sequence of the pig genome," commented Dr Jane Rogers, Head of Sequencing at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "The time to produce this important, intermediate sequence is here."

"The sequence will be of immediate use to researchers working on health and disease in pigs. Because the pig shares much physiology with the human, the sequence will also be a valuable resource for human biomedicine research."

With funding from BBSRC, DEFRA and USDA, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute generated the framework map on which the genome sequence will be built. The team has produced a map of the 3 billion base-pair genome from around 250,000 clones that has only 175 gaps. The accurate map will speed draft sequence production and act as a resource for further studies around the world.

" Because the pig shares much physiology with the human, the sequence will also be a valuable resource for human biomedicine research "

Dr Jane Rogers

The pig genome is about 3 billion base-pairs (or letters of genetic code) distributed among 19 pairs of chromosomes (the human has 23 pairs). It is thought to contain a similar number of protein-coding genes to the human - around 24,000.

Although all mammals diverged about 70-80 million years ago, the pig genome lies closer to primate genomes than do mouse and rat genomes, which have evolved more rapidly. By comparing rodent and human genomes, researchers can not determine whether differences they see result from changes in the rodent or primate lineage. The pig genome will fill a large 'gap' in genome evolution.

Because many of the biological features of the pig are more similar to human than those of rodents the pig serves as a model for human disease in a wide range of research including cardiovascular, pulmonary, gastrointestinal and immunological studies. Just as the human genome sequence has transformed understanding of human gene regulation, so the pig sequence can be expected to speed developments in biomedical research.

Professor Alan Archibald, Head of Genetics and Genomics at Roslin Institute and part of the international Swine Genome Sequencing Consortium, commented: "This is great news and a terrific endorsement of the excellence of the Sanger Institute and the international team that won this USDA funding in the face of competition from US genome centres. The research groups in the UK that will benefit from the sequence include not only mine and others studying pigs as an agricultural species, but also others using pigs to study obesity, eye diseases and cancer."

The pig was one of the first animals to be domesticated and today pork represents about 40% of the world meat production. The genome sequence will be used to identify disease-resistance genes in pigs, promoting healthier stocks.

The data from the project will be made immediately available to researchers worldwide.

US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns made the announcement today [Monday 16 January 2006] at the Plant and Animal Genomics XIV Conference in San Diego, USA.

Notes to Editors

  • Participating Centres

    • Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA
    • Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA
    • The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, UK
    • Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, UK
    • INRA-CEA, Jouy-en-Josas, France
    • INRA-Toulouse, France
    • Agricultural Research Service, Clay Center, NE, USA
    • The Alliance for Animal Genomics, Bethesda, MD, USA
    • University of Nevada, Reno
    • Iowa State University, USA

    Resources

    Funding

    • USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) administered the grant through the National Research Initiative
    • National Pork Board
    • Iowa Pork Board
    • Iowa State University
    • North Carolina Pork Council
    • North Carolina State University
    • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
    • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)



The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms and more than 90 pathogen genomes. In October 2006, new funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to exploit the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease.

Websites

The Wellcome Trust and Its Founder

The Wellcome Trust is the most diverse biomedical research charity in the world, spending about £450 million every year both in the UK and internationally to support and promote research that will improve the health of humans and animals. The Trust was established under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome, and is funded from a private endowment, which is managed with long-term stability and growth in mind.

Websites

Sanger Institute Contact Information:

Don Powell Press Officer
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Hinxton, Cambs, CB10 1SA, UK

Tel +44 (0)1223 496 928
Mobile +44 (0)7753 7753 97
Fax +44 (0)1223 494 919
Email press.office@sanger.ac.uk

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