Ordinarily, some healthy competition doesn’t hurt. But when a pig gets sick, everyone suffers. That may explain why rival companies are teaming up to support Genome Alberta-led research on applying genomics to increase disease resilience and sustainability in Canadian pork production.
One of those companies, Hypor Inc., is doing their part to ensure the health of pigs and the pork industry itself. Hypor is the swine breeding division of Hendrix Genetics.
“A big way we participate is by contributing pigs to the research,” said Dr. Patrick Charagu, Senior Geneticist – Swine at Hypor/Hendrix Genetics.
Along with the Canadian Centre for Swine Improvement, Fast Genetics, Genesus Genetics, La Coop Fédérée, Topigs Norsvin and DNA Genetics, Hypor is part of PigGen Canada, an association of breeding companies doing business in Canada. PigGen's stated mission is to represent the Canadian swine genetics industry with a single voice and be the ‘go-to’ group for swine genetic research in Canada.
While the seven members of the association are normally adversaries in business, they’ve become allies in the quest for disease-resilient pigs.
“Our interest as a company is in driving pre-competitive research to develop tools that will benefit everyone in the long run.”
Supplying healthy pigs is crucial to the project. At the Deschambault Swine Testing Station run by the CDPQ (Centre de développement du porc du Québec Inc.), researchers are applying a disease challenge model to test their theories under real life conditions. They want to mimic a commercial pig environment and introduce disease in a controlled manner with strict protocols. In this way, they can collect all the data and samples needed to reach their objectives.
“Before starting the project, the test farm was exposed to several of the most ubiquitous pig diseases. We then brought in healthy pigs so that scientists could measure their immuno-competence and how they respond to disease challenges in areas like growth, leanness and feed consumption (resilience). Most critical to investigate is the genetic basis of immuno-competence and resilience.”
Like the other members of PigGen, Hypor is also contributing cash that can be used to leverage funding from Genome Alberta and Genome Canada.
As well, they are part of the project design, implementation and administration. It all represents a large investment of time and resources, but Hypor and other PigGen members feel the return is worth the outlay.
“Being able to select for disease resilience to develop animals that never get sick, or that keep producing and growing in spite of illness, is huge for our clients. It’s hard, costly work that would take many years to perform on our own, so if we can accomplish it through collaboration, that’s of great value to us.”
Adding further value for Hendrix Genetics/Hypor is the potential to apply their findings to other species such as chickens, turkeys and fish using similar strategies in-house.
Does this mean that the former competitors are now BFF’s (best friends forever)? LOL.
“The idea is that once we’ve collectively developed tools and knowledge to enable us to develop genetic lines that can perform in the face of disease challenge, we can then take this knowledge back to our own breeding programs and implement it in a manner that gives us a competitive advantage.”
In doing so, Hypor can stay true to its core values such as sustainability, innovation and collaboration.
“When we have assured health and little or no antibiotic use, our company has a positive impact on animal welfare while furthering our commitment to social responsibility. Indeed this is just one of many projects we’re involved in at Hendrix-Genetics that seeks to address this.”
Who knows, maybe all of this cooperation and the progress that results will turn competitors into collaborators for the long term.
Then again, it’s more likely to go the way of a pig disease in a newly resilient animal: 'This too shall pass.'