University of Alberta-led swine study tackles next health frontier

Study focuses on using genomic tools to protect swine exposed to multiple disease threats

If Canada is going to maintain a successful position in the global pork marketplace, swine health and animal care promises to be one of the deciding factors. Sustainable production and competitive pricing will be priorities and swine health and welfare is both a social requirement and necessity for sustainable production.

Porcine health management represents a tremendous opportunity for the application of innovative genomic tools, University of Alberta professor and genomics expert Michael Dyck said at the 2016 Banff Pork Seminar.

Disease constantly evolves and presents new pressures, said Dyck. There is a need to develop genomic tools and production management practices to help protect animals exposed to multiple disease threats including the most significant disease currently affecting the pork industry.

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At the same time there is pressure on antimicrobial use in pork production which may require more robust pigs to maintain production, he says.

The next phase of research will take a more broad approach and concentrate on disease resilience, which is a combination of tolerance and resistance, he said. Pigs with increased disease resilience are better able to respond to health challenges and maintain reproductive and grow-finish performance.

A major four-year study, led by U of A scientists, is currently underway and will build on previous research accomplishments in the area, said Dyck.

The research is focused on four areas:

  • Host variation in disease susceptibility to identify individuals with improved resilience.
  • Host-pathogen interactions to identify and augment host responses linked to resilience.
  • The role of microbial colonization in shaping immune responses and resilience.
  • Nutritional impacts on these interactions.

The study will also include societal and economic studies to determine the attitudes of various industry players and factors that could affect the rate of adoption of health- and productivity-related technologies.

The outcomes could include genomics-based tools for optimal disease resilience and management of nutritional strategies. These could improve end-users’ ability to selected, feed and microbial management tools for optimal immune response of pigs, he said.

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