Science meets industry at Pig Genetics Workshop

Published 31 October 2012

pigA biennial event at the University of New England last week lived up to its 20-year tradition as a major forum for the international exchange of ideas and information on pig genetics.

The 2012 Pig Genetics Workshop, organised through the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) at UNE, brought researchers and industry representatives together to discuss the latest advances in the theory and practice of pig breeding.

The coordinator of the event, AGBU’s Dr Susanne Hermesch, pointed out that Professor Hans-Ulrich Graser (the Director of AGBU) and Professor Chris Moran from the University of Sydney had participated in many of the workshops over the years. “This time,” she said, “they both presented their personal reflections on research in quantitative and molecular genetics that have led to the development of new tools for the livestock industries, and on the potential of those tools in the genetic improvement of livestock.”

Dr Hermesch said that a major focus of the workshop had been the use of genomic selection in pig breeding.

Among the presentations was one by AGBU’s Dr Andrew Swan, who explained how genomic selection had been implemented in the Australian sheep industry. Other presentation topics included “Recording haemoglobin levels in sows, piglets and growing pigs on farm”, “PigEV – a new tool to derive economic values from pigs”, and “Breeding sows better suited to group housing”. These and other projects have been funded by Australian Pork Limited and the Pork Cooperative Research Centre.

The workshop also provided opportunities for postgraduate students to present their research results to the industry. Poasa Tabuaciri outlined the use of thermal imaging as a tool to improve piglet survival, and Sarita Guy discussed mechanisms of disease resistance and disease tolerance, and their potential use in the genetic improvement of productivity and health in pigs.

A visitor from the UK, Dr Rex Walters, said that UNE, with its AGBU research centre – a joint venture between the University and the NSW Department of Primary Industries – was “a global centre of excellence” in pig genetics.

Dr Walters, the Managing Director (Genetic) of UPB Genetic World, has been a regular participant in the AGBU workshops. “I find them a unique experience,” he said, “where representatives of breeding companies large and small meet world-ranking scientists.”

Dr Walters reported to the workshop on the genetic analysis of traditional British pig breeds, explaining the potential value of their genes for future breeding programs.

“For example,” he said, “one of the traditional breeds had a strong resistance to the intestinal parasite E. coli, while resistance to it in modern breeds is very low. For reasons such as this, the genes of traditional breeds may be a valuable resource for mankind. Preserving them is a kind of insurance policy.”

The contingent of participants from abroad also included Melanie Larochelle and Danye Marois from Génétiporc Inc. in Quebec, Canada, and Niki Nuijten from PIC New Zealand.

Clicking on the image above reveals a photograph of the workshop participants.