AMES, IOWA -- Iowa State University is collaborating on a new $10 million international effort to sequence the swine genome.



Today, the USDA awarded a $10 million National Research Initiative grant for the two-year project to the University of Illinois and its university, government and private partners, including Iowa State.



"The sequencing of the pig genome is a scientific advance that will offer great benefits for consumers and human health," said Max Rothschild, a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture in animal science and director of ISU's Center for Integrated Animal Genomics.



The project is receiving more than a million additional dollars from other organizations, including $200,000 from Iowa State, $100,000 from the Iowa Pork Producers Association and $750,000 from the National Pork Board. Also contributing are the North Carolina Pork Council, North Carolina State University and the University of Illinois.



"The support we've received from producers and their organizations has been crucial to obtaining this research support from USDA," said Rothschild.



Rothschild is one of nine project co-directors based at seven institutions in four countries involved in the sequencing effort. He has served as national pig genome coordinator for the USDA since 1993.



In awarding the grant, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said, "Pork is the major red meat consumed worldwide. With more than 61 million pigs in the nation, the sequence of the pig genome will have a significant impact on U.S. agriculture."



"By decoding the sequence of the pig genome, scientists can explore new ways to improve swine health and to increase the efficiency of swine production," said Joseph Jen, USDA under secretary for research, education and Economics.



The project will lead to the development of new DNA-based tools to identify and select genetically superior pigs that resist infectious diseases, yield larger litter sizes and produce leaner cuts of meat for consumers.



"Since Iowa is the nation's No. 1 state in pork production, these advances will add to the competitive advantage of our producers," said Rothschild. "But ultimately, the consumer will be the beneficiary."



Because the pig genome is similar to the human genome in size, complexity and organization, the project could lead to future biomedical advances. "The pig is an outstanding model to study human diseases," Rothschild said. "Understanding the pig genome should provide enormous opportunities for treating human disorders like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It also could improve the breeding of pigs to produce human-transplant organs."



The project is a wholesale approach to what Iowa State has been doing for years on mapping and identification of pig genes. "We've been studying several hundred genes and sequencing one at a time," he said. "This project will sequence all 30,000-plus genes in the swine genome."



Research led by Rothschild and other CIAG faculty members has focused on detecting underlying genetic differences that may produce significant improvements in reproduction, meat quality, growth and other important areas. "The sequencing project will allow us to make progress more quickly," he said.



Part of ISU's role is working to ensure the project's sequencing approach is the most effective in achieving a complete swine genome sequence. As a project co-director, Rothschild will keep the public and industry updated on the research's progress. As draft sequences become available, they will be publicly available on a Web database.



Besides Iowa State University, the other institutions collaborating with the University of Illinois are:
Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, Scotland; University of Nevada, Reno; Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, United Kingdom; INRA Cellular Genetics Laboratory, Toulouse, France; and the USDA Agricultural Research Service Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, Neb.



Rothschild and other ISU scientists working with livestock genomes are part of the Center for Integrated Animal Genomics (CIAG), an interdisciplinary group of faculty and students in the College of Agriculture, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Human Sciences, College of Engineering and College of Veterinary Medicine. They are using genomic approaches to identify, map and understand the function and control of genes for the improvement and benefit of animal agriculture and human health. Since its inception in 2002, the center has awarded more than $450,000 to support animal genomics research across campus.



SOURCE: Iowa State University news release.