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Future indicators in pig breeding (part 1)

By Dr Danie Visser, managing director: TOPIGS SA

Before one can discuss possible scenarios for big breeding in future, it is necessary to look at some general trends that will have an influence on agricultural production in the years to come. One also has to take note of the many techniques, some revolutionary, that have influenced animal breeding, and pig breeding in particular, over the years. These techniques have laid the foundation for modern pig breeding and many will still impact on breeding in the years ahead.The information revolution
Today’s individual has unprecedented choice and access to information. The internet, spearheaded by the search engine Google, has become the epitome of the information revolution.  Technologies such as miniature computers (no bigger than a match head), nanotechnology, a technology that in future will enable man to store a trillion amount of information on a surface as big as a stamp, and robotics, a science not only applicable to industrial manufacturing but also agriculture, will also impact on future pig breeding.
The march for technology continues, ushered by the powers of imagination, innovation and application.
Experts are however of the opinion that we have created and generated more data than we know how to handle. We live in an era where technology is outpacing our abilities to use it.
But what was the effect of technology on pig production? First, some global agricultural trends.
Trends in agriculture
• Animal production and the environment
By 2030 the world demand for meat and dairy products is expected to increase between 30 and 40%. This will have an effect on the competitiveness of animal products and the adaptation of animals to various production environments. Other factors that will influence animal production are:
* an increased consumer awareness (of these practices),
* pressure on producers to reduce their animal footprint and
* an increased emphasis on animal well-being and welfare.
The challenge therefore will be to find a balance between the need for products of organic animal origin on the one hand and those of the natural environment on the other hand.
• Energy
Energy will become a scares resource and the emphasis in farming operations will have to be on energy utilisation. To remain competitive, this will be an input that producers have to manage carefully. This, however, also poses opportunities for pig producers. Some experts believe that farming with energy may become the focus on pig farms in future with meat as a by-product.
• Global warming
Global warming will be another factor influencing farming practices. Research conducted in South Africa indicated that our summer rainfall pattern is shifting and our winter rainfall pattern is being extended. This is also called seasonal shifting.
• The consumer is king
The saying, the consumer is king, will become a greater reality in future. Consumers will demand healthy products, transparency from farmers, ethical credentials and convenience in one package. Natural and organic products will be high on their shopping lists.
• Animal production
Diversity versus uniformity will remain a key variable in animal breeding. The pig industry will also have to deal with the paradox that, while being concerned about the loss of genetic diversity, the industry will on the other hand have to recognise the need to increase product uniformity and consistency.
Structural changes such as consolidation, integration and vertical co-ordination of livestock industries will be a characteristic of future farming.
Biotechnology, with genomics, reproduction technology and transgenic technology as the major drivers, will play a key role in animal breeding.
• Lessons from the Dutch industry
South African pork producers can take the following lessons from the Dutch pig industry to heart.
* Cost of reduction is continuously reduced
* Feed efficiency and lowering the CO2 footprint is a high priority
* A variety of genetic lines is available
* Animal welfare and health issues are addressed
* Carcass quality remains a priority and researchers are starting to select against boar taint
* Intrinsic (meat) quality and food safety, sustainability and social responsibility are priority matters
The concept of “balanced breeding” has already been accepted in 2001.
Milestones since 1900
• 1900 to 1980
Quantative genetics have made the majority of advancements in animal breeding over the past 100 years possible. Discoveries in the field of molecular genetics and genomics have dominated thinking about breeding the past 10 to 15 years.
The 3D molecular structure of DNA in 1953 and matured AI techniques for most animal species were two fundamental breakthroughs that are still impacting substantially on animal breeding today.
In the seventies computer technology and genetic evaluation (that combined AI with quantitave genetics) were further milestones. This lead to breeding value estimations within and across herds, the so-called Blup era. Pig Blup developed in 1985. In the Netherlands Advanced Pig Blup is already applied, Mixed Blup.
• 1980 +
Animal genomics surfaced in the eighties. This is the scientific discipline of mapping, sequencing and analyzing genomic level DNA information. Sequencing refers to the unraveling of the DNA to understand the genetic code. Animal genomics paved the way for the “omics” highway. These include:
* Proteonomics
Proteonomics refers to the science where many genes and proteins are considered at the same time to better understand the function and regulation of genes and their intricate participation in the expression of a trait.
* Metagenomics
Metagenomics contributes to the better understanding of the microbial environment of the intestines/digestive tact.
* Phenomics
Phenomics refers to the study of large, highly resourced and deeply phenotype populations. Hence the establishment of large databases.
* Immunogenomics
Immunogenomics strives to find animals with the most robust immune systems in a heard. Immunogenomics is an exiting field, but calls for collaboration between various researchers in the fields of immunology, veterinary medicine, evolutionary biology and molecular genetics. Furthermore, at least three to five countries are involved, often on two or more continents. Farmers are the focus of this research.
Spin offs from this research include:
* Antimicrobial Peptides (AMP)
AMP focuses on an individual or animal’s own personal antibodies. These bodies bind to bacteria, puncture membranes and kill the bacteria. Noval AMP’s have been discovered.
AMP’s from pigs are already commercially available such as anti acne products for humans. AMP’s will be harnessed in relation to antibiotic resistance in human and animal medicine.
* Microarrays
This is the reaction of all genes to a disease simultaneously.
* Comparative genetics
Comparative genetics is the ability to compare immune systems in chickens, cattle, pigs and humans with a casual positive effect on human health, food production and animal enterprises.
* Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
This technology unleashed the forces of research into the genetic code of plants and animals. The first PCR machine to determine the MH gene mutation was purchased in 1992/3 by SAPPO for the ARC Irene.
Central to this technology is the concept of QTL. This is a location in the genome that has an effect on a quantitave trait. The first QLT study in pigs was done in 1994. The study discovered QTL was a major locus for fat disposition on chromosome 4.
QLT’s with significant influences on meat quality were located on almost every pig chromosome. In 2007 more than 1 000 QTL’s for meat quality were reported. In total, nine chromosomes were identified as rich in QTL’s for meat quality.
* Genetic manipulation techniques
These techniques include:
* Velogenetics: Reducing the genetic interval by harvesting oocytes from calves while still in utero
* Recombinant – DNA: This technique has unlimited possibilities
* Gene insertion: One can insert genes from a virus to make a crop resistant to a disease, for example:
Create a genetically modified maize cultivar that is:
– Insect resistant
– Pesticide tolerant
– Improvement amino acid content (Lycine, Meth, Trp)
These techniques therefore improve pork’s value as a foodstuff.
DNA cloning, reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning are controversial techniques.
The first cloning was done in 1997 when the sheep, Dolly was created through cloning by Scottish researchers at the Roslin Institute. Cloning refers to the technique of generating an animal with the same nuclear DNA as another currently or previous existing animal. The technique involves somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Dolly was created without sex, without sperm without fertilization and gave rise to serious debate about legal, moral, ethical and spiritual concerns.
Dolly died six years later of cancer. It is therefore difficult to judge the future of cloning as the technique has side effects.

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