Swine researcher shares in funding to develop genomics tools to manage diseases

$9.8M grant will also be used to increase meat quality.


(Edmonton) Swine researcher Michael Dyck is leading a team that received a $9.8-million grant from government and industry to develop genomics tools to manage disease in pork and help increase its quality.

Dyck, a researcher in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta, and colleagues from the University of Saskatchewan and a consortium of genetics companies will lead a four-year project seeking to select and manage pigs that are more resilient to multiple diseases.

The genomics tools they plan to develop will also allow producers to manage the nutritional content of pig feed to ensure that pigs stay healthier, grow more efficiently and have more successful litters, reducing the need for antibiotic use in pig production.

“Managing disease is a complex problem and in order to address it we needed to have a diverse group of people,” said Dyck, 'who brings biotechnology expertise to the project that involves researchers with veterinarian and swine genetics backgrounds. Additionally, having a representative from industry directly involved allows the team to not only get results but tailor them so they can be integrated into the industry easily.

He adds managing disease in pork populations is one of the most costly and difficult challenges for pork producers because it’s so multifaceted. There are many diseases, and why and how different animals react differently to disease is complex.

“We’re trying to identify animals that get sick and then don’t do so badly,” he said.

Dyck notes the research is also important because pork is the most consumed animal protein in the world and the regions of the world that consume it the most are expanding their populations rapidly.

Finally, Dyck says creating genomic tools that better manage disease will both increase the international competitiveness of the Canadian pork industry and contribute to global food safety and security.  

Currently, Canadian pork is exported to more than 100 countries. Within five years of the project’s completion, it’s anticipated that the rate of genetic improvement and productivity will have an impact of more than $137 million.

The grant is funded in large measure by the federal agency Genome Canada as part of its $93-million investment in new genomics projects meant to address challenges and opportunities for Canadian agriculture, fisheries and aquatics. Other funders include industry partner PigGen, and provincial organizations Genome Alberta, Genome Prairie (representing Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and the Ontario Genomic Institute.