Raising pigs is a tricky business. High production costs place a premium on effective breeding practices. Genetic and economic studies show that sows need to reach puberty early and subsequently produce enough litters to offset production and maintenance costs. This is a combination of traits that scientists call “reproductive longevity.”
Daniel Ciobanu, PhD, and his team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that sows expressing age at puberty early in life produce more litters during their lifetime. They assume the same genes influence both traits. However, collecting age at puberty is tedious and time consuming and not embraced by industry. Ciobanu’s laboratory analyzed the problem through the lens of molecular and statistical genetics and developed a practical solution.
“DNA marker technology is fascinating. You can predict at day one, with certain probabilities, which sows will have high fertility potential.”
– Dr. Daniel Ciobanu
The researchers examined the genome of hundreds of sows using 60,000 DNA markers to determine which genes and markers are responsible for the onset of puberty. They then evaluated how early puberty and reproductive longevity could be predicted using a combination of DNA markers associated with the largest effects.
The next steps for Ciobanu’s team will be to validate the findings using 3,000 commercial pigs, and then bring the findings to farmers and breeders so they can benefit from the scientific advancements.