Whether it’s a candlelit dinner or walk on the beach, most things are better with a partner. That’s certainly true of research on applying genomics to improve disease resilience in the pork industry. In seeking to break new ground for agriculture, science has forged a mutually beneficial partnership with some key industry players.
“We got involved because we appreciated that several parties could come together, have common objectives and do pre-competitive research that benefits the entire industry,” said Tom Rathje, Chief Technical Officer for DNA Genetics LLC. Though based in Columbus, Nebraska, the company recently established a nucleus farm in Canada and does business in the major pork producing provinces.
With the growing industry focus on robustness and resistance to pathogens as a means of reducing or eliminating antibiotic use, companies see the need to better understand pig biology and how to create an animal that can more effectively cope with disease.
“It’s hard for one company to do all of this on their own. The knowledge we get from working with major research institutions in Canada and leveraging grant dollars can help solve real world problems for society.”
Meeting the challenge
For their part, DNA Genetics has been providing pigs to the Deschambault Swine Testing Station, where researchers are applying a disease challenge model to test their theories under real life conditions. That portion of the project is now complete and data analysis is well underway.
“This study has produced a wealth of information on how pigs react in a disease-challenged environment. For example, the project has identified feed intake patterns related to a pig’s capacity to cope with disease challenge. These results are especially useful for our company because they will help us leverage existing data we have on our animals to breed for resilience. We could not have learned of these relationships without this project.”
Those patterns change when pigs are fighting disease, and information on how they change will inform the company’s breeding programs; yet the impact of the project on DNA Genetics goes a step further. One of the key drivers of profit and loss for pig producers is mortality and morbidity. If companies can select for pigs that tolerate disease challenges through enhanced immune systems, and get those pigs into production systems, they will ultimately improve the health and well-being of the animals.
As much as pig health is about profit and loss, there is more to it in Rathje’s view.
Here’s to your health
“Anyone who cares for pigs wants the best for them and wants to see them thrive. There is also the issue of antibiotics and the pressure from the public to reduce our use of those drugs in the livestock industry. If we can apply genetics to select for animals that rely less on outside intervention, it will be of great value to industry and society at large.”
The fact that Genome Alberta-led researchers have kept the project relevant to the present needs of industry, while always keeping one eye on the future, is a big draw for DNA Genetics.
“This project fits well with the company’s vision, because when we look at the future of our genetic programs, the next important focus for industry will be the concepts of robustness and resilience, and these results will lay the groundwork for future genetic improvement programs.”
The pork industry has always contributed to sustainability. Moving forward, reducing mortality and morbidity through projects like this will be big drivers of continuing the tradition for pork producers, and Rathje is pleased to be part of that process.
“This study fits well with our company’s goals and philosophies, so it’s hard not to be involved.”