Yet more new scientific concepts – genomics

Two blogs ago I described epigenetics, with which genomics are often confused because the genome is part of both. But they’re not quite the same.

To remind you, a genome is the complete inventory of hereditary traits contained in a half-set of chromosomes. It means “all the genes in an organism” to you and me!

Genomics are the mapping, sequencing and analysis of all the genes in a given species – done by clever people.

Once identified and isolated – done by even cleverer people – “gene transfer” is possible. In the early stages of this research, many people were concerned that mistakes could be made, embryos could be twisted out of shape (interfering with nature), or new disease organisms created that would invade medicine. All possible of course, but nowadays becoming unlikely.

On the plus side, the huge potential value of eliminating genetically reproduced diseases and disorders by excising those genes, which have provided their links from one generation to another, becomes a basket of many holy grails in the human, animal, beneficial-insect and plant worlds.

Risk assessment studies are heavily in favour of going ahead progressively and carefully with gene modification. So genomics are the bedrock of genetic progress – the start of it all. Epigenetics build on this foundation by using the advantages of gene excision, gene insertion and even gene repair in a variety of ways, both to avoid/eliminate diseases or disorders and behavioural characteristics, or to improve performance.

Genomic benefit
So this can mean benefits disease-wise, by reducing or eliminating common threats. After pig price, the cost of disease is the biggest threat to profitability. And, in fact, the best genetics can be dashed into the gutter by disease.

So, genetics have to come second in genomic research. It’s fairly obvious now that the pig geneticist has done very well for us with what resources he has had up to now in achieving productive improvement.

With litters of 16, 9kg weaners at 24 days, 35 weaned/sow/year and 1.4t of weanerweight per sow lifetime, all either here now or shortly within sight, I wonder how much further such improvement is economically feasible? But this has been said throughout time.

Improving evenness
One area of economic importance right across the whole pig production industry is evenness of weight at slaughter. This is important to the producer in lowering housing costs by a quicker reoccupation of an increasingly costly area of production. But it’s important to the processor in facilitating, and so economising, on his improved processing-flow.

New developments in genomics and genetics will lead to more uniform products emerging from the finishing house, which benefits everyone, right up to and including the consumer. No wonder Henry Ford latched-on to uniformity 100 years ago!

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)