Progress toward pig disease resilience

Progress toward pig disease resilience
Dec 01, 2020

Academic and industry partners are working together to validate genomic indicators of resilience 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

Researchers across Canada and the world are collaborating to improve the genetics of the Canadian swine herd. Recently, Dr. Michael Dyck, a professor of animal biotechnology at the University of Alberta, received $1 million in funding through Genome Canada’s Genomics Application Partnership Program, to continue his research on disease resilience in pigs.

There is a distinction between resistance and resilience to disease, Dyck told Disease resistance means the animal will have no response and be unaffected by a disease.

However, pigs “that we refer to as resilient are exposed to a disease, then have an immune response … but still keep on performing, and are less affected,” he explained. “They keep eating, keep drinking, keep growing.”

The new research funding is part of a project that’s been ongoing with Genome Canada and Genome Alberta for five years.  

PigGen Canada, a consortium of swine genetics companies, is a key partner for this research, contributing funding, pigs, and expertise. The organization was interested in “looking at how we can address the issue of disease and the impacts that disease has on production and things like antibiotic use,” Dyck said.

To do so, a collaborative research team developed a natural disease challenge model, introducing high health pigs to a herd with common swine diseases present.

“We looked at all sorts of things to see what made them respond differently to disease,” Dyck explained. The researchers identified traits “that seemed to have relationships with animals that were either resilient or susceptible for disease.”

The team worked on “testing different resilience indicators to see which ones actually predictive or gave us some idea of which pigs would be resilient,” he added.

This research has involved cooperation between many scientist and institutions, including Dr. John Harding at the University of Saskatchewan.

”He played a pretty instrumental role in helping to set up the natural disease challenge model and assess a lot of the diseases and disease response,” Dyck explained. “At the University of Alberta we did a lot of the genomics work, Iowa state University did a lot of the secondary analysis related to the relationships between the characteristics and the university of Guelph did the work on some of the immune tests and the actual animal model is near Quebec City.”

The partners are now moving on to the verification stage of the project, using the resilience indicators determined through the natural disease challenge model.

“We’re still working with PigGen and the (genetics) companies,” Dyck said. “We have these candidate indicators and we’re trying to validate them and make sure that they do everything we want them to,  but also make sure that, if we select for them, we’re not selecting against characteristics like growth or carcass quality or other characteristics that are important for production.”

Next, “what we want to do is see how we can effectively incorporate those into the breeding programs of the different companies,” he added. “The geneticists involved all have research backgrounds … they’ll be part of the validation.”

Geneticists at each company know their unique needs and what indicators will be of use to their specific breeding programs

“We need them to validate within their own breeding programs … so they’re fully integrated into this project,” Dyck said.

The team conducts weekly calls to organize the logistics between all the academic and industry partners. This funding is another step towards improved disease resilience in the Canadian swine industry.

Yuttana Srimongkol\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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