Lawrence B. Schook, a professor of animal sciences at Illinois and co-chairman of the International Swine Genome Sequencing Consortium, will head the project that is expected to cost $20 million and involve researchers at seven other institutions.
Sequencing of the some 2.5 billion chemical base pairs that spell out the pig's genetic code will be done at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom. The groundwork for the project has grown over time at Illinois, through extensive swine research, the development of genetic tools and a campus commitment to pursue genome-related research with the establishment of the Institute for Genomic Biology, Schook said.
Last year Schook and Jonathan Beever, a professor of animal sciences, announced that a side-by-side comparison of the human and pig genome revealed remarkable similarities. They rearranged 173 pieces of the human genome to make a map of a pig.
"Now we can take all of the pieces and put them into their correct order and know the exact DNA sequence in each piece," Schook said. "We were able to build a map to know what parts of the pig genome were equivalent to the same parts of the human genome. Now we can take those parts and compare them sequence by sequence."
Schook, Beever and Bruce Schatz, interim head of the department of medical information science in the U. of I. College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign, will continue an ongoing collaboration with Jane Rogers and Sean Humphray at the Sanger Institute to provide an initial three-fold coverage of the pig genome sequence.
As the sequencing proceeds, the data will be mined on campus at the IGB. Because the pig and human genomes are similar in size, complexity and organization, researchers expect that comparisons will lead to biomedical advances, including pig-to-human transplants and disease treatments.
"This grant represents the efforts of many colleagues around the world," Schook said. "We were very fortunate to be able to conduct research that provided the opportunity to assume this leadership position. Clearly this is a significant acknowledgement of the leadership of the genomics program at the University of Illinois."
The female, reddish-brown Duroc pig involved in the project was used by Beever and Schook to study genes that control growth and contribute to meat quality. Its DNA also was extracted, donated and cloned to develop genetic tools and biomedical models.
The USDA grant -- issued through its National Research Initiative -- also recognizes the success of the university's participation in the Livestock Genome Sequencing Initiative (LGSI), also funded by the agency, said IGB Director Harris Lewin.
"It's truly gratifying to have the USDA acknowledge the efforts of our LGSI and our national and international collaborators by selecting our proposal for funding," Beever said. "After many years of laying the foundation for sequencing of the pig genome, it is truly rewarding to see our dreams of a porcine sequence come true. This sequencing will have tremendous, long-lasting impacts on the continuum of science in animal agriculture and human health."