Romantics would say that the universal language is love, but its ability to keep pigs healthy has yet to be proven. Genomics, on the other hand, shows great promise in that regard. It’s this potential that spawned the Genome Alberta-led project on using genomics to improve disease resilience in Canadian pork production. And it’s the power of genomics that brought Canadian and French researchers together to apply genomics in fighting a common foe: pig disease.
Researchers without borders
“We have combined our interests with Genome Canada and Genome Alberta, working cooperatively in both countries to share ideas and objectives,” said Dr. Claire Rogel-Gaillard, head of the Animal Genetics and Integrative Biology Laboratory at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).
One of those objectives is to understand the architecture of immune capacity in pigs and how it’s affected by the gut microbiome.
“With Genome Canada, we are teaming up to study vaccination efficiency and identify biological markers that are predictive of that efficiency. This collaboration marks the first time that such studies have been combined with information on the microbiome to try and explain inter-individual differences in the effectiveness of vaccines.”
The result is two parallel experiments in Canada and France that will act as validation in both countries.
“The example we’re studying right now is the vaccine against Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae [responsible for the porcine enzootic pneumonia, a chronic respiratory disease of pigs],” said Dr. Peris Munyaka, currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Alberta who is working at INRA in France.
Whether you say it as “répondez s'il vous plaît” or "please respond", both countries are seeking the same thing: individual biological information that exists before vaccination that could predict response variability. Taking between 120 and 200 pigs in both Alberta and France, researchers are looking at their reaction to vaccine and identifying those animals that respond well versus ones with moderate or no response. They then look more closely at the high responders to identify what it is about their microbiome or blood transcriptome (set of all RNA molecules in one cell or a population of cells) measured before vaccination that drove that strong response.
“Our goal is to find bio markers of vaccine response in the Canadian pigs that we can test and validate in the French animals, and vice versa,” said Dr. Peris Munyaka.
The two research teams also share a “big picture” goal that is of universal interest these days.
“We’re on the cutting edge here in relating the microbiome and vaccines,” said Dr. Rogel-Gaillard. “Globally, we share the desire to foster health and promote sustainable breeding programs on swine farms. We want to combine productivity, health and welfare, so we need to find new phenotypes and biomarkers to select animals that can grow and thrive while reducing our use of antibiotics.”
Once they have validated their findings, both countries are committed to sharing them with the private sector as soon as possible, providing new information on individual variability of vaccine responses that could be useful to breeders or the pig industry at large.”
At the same time, Dr. Rogel-Gaillard adds a cautionary note.
“If you identify biomarkers, they will be very environment-specific. We are working on proof of concept, but biomarkers will likely differ greatly between Canadian and French pigs. Still, this project should provide useful information for both countries. Working on large-scale health programs lets us develop large phenotype platforms. If we want to increase our knowledge on immune response and efficiency, we need to gather broad data on the capacity of each animal to respond to different stimuli. The more programs like this that we can work on together, the more information we’ll have to inform future research.”
All of that is not to question the power of love. But faced with a health challenge that could impact your animals and your business, genomics may be the better bet.