U of Guelph to downsize Enviro pig research

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Researchers in Ontario plan to wind down the breeding work on a line of hogs genetically modified for more efficient use of phosphorus in their diets.

Ontario Pork, one of the key funders in the development of the “Enviropig” line at the University of Guelph, recently announced the university is “reducing the scope of its Enviropig research” when Ontario Pork pulls its funding from the project this spring.

The Guelph-based hog industry organization has “decided to redirect its research dollars,” but added that research on the Enviropig line has been completed to a point where the genetics have been proven and their value has been documented.

Ontario Pork said on its website, the university has decided the project is at a point where it is best for industry or a receptor to take it over and the school’s business development office will look for “potential commercialization/industry opportunities.”

Research on the Enviropig will continue, but in “a more cost-effective way that does not require the continual breeding and generation of live animals,” Ontario Pork said.

The Enviropig line of genetically modified Yorkshires was invented by Guelph professors Cecil Forsberg and John Phillips, with University of Delaware professor Serguei Golovan.

The breeding line includes a composite gene allowing the animals to produce an acid phosphatase enzyme, commonly called phytase, in the salivary glands and secrete it in their saliva.

The composite gene was created with a gene from an E. coli strain that makes phytase, plus a “very small portion” of a gene from a mouse that controls the production of proteins secreted in the salivary gland.

As Enviropigs digest typical hog feed, phytase is active in their stomachs, degrading otherwise-indigestible phytate that accounts for 50 to 75 per cent of their ration’s grain-based phosphorus.

With the animals’ feed phosphorus digested, the project’s backers say, there would be no need for an Enviropig producer to supplement the diet with either mineral phosphate or commercially-produced phytase.

Furthermore, the animals shed less phosphorus in their manure, which would reduce their environmental impact in areas where soil phosphorus is beyond a desirable level.

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