European pig breeders have found a lucrative market selling pigs to China in recent years, but a new study by Wageningen University in the Netherlands published on Tuesday shows that in the past the trade in pig genetics flowed in the opposite direction.
In fact, the pigs exported to China these days are distant descendants of Chinese pigs that were brought into Europe about 200 years ago. Domesticated pigs trace their lineage back to wild boars – Latin name Sus scrofa – that originated in South-east Asia about four million years ago. These developed into two very distinct populations – the farmed pig of East Asia and the European wild boar.
The journal Nature Communications reports that a team of geneticists, led by Mirte Bosse, sequenced the DNA of 70 pig breeds from across Europe and Asia. They found telltale signatures, or haplotypes, from Chinese breeds that were brought into European boars in the late 18th and early 19th century – a trade that can be confirmed in documents of the time.
The Chinese pigs are said to have brought in great mothering characteristics, superior meat quality, strong resistance to diseases, better adaptation to living in sties and producing large litters of 15 piglets or more, the paper says.
“Our findings provide a unique insight into the genomic haplotype patterns resulting from breeding practices from first domestication until the intensive breeding industry we know today,” it adds.