Maximising genetic gain

Using science to maximise genetic gain

The process of genetic improvement starts with accurately measuring performance differences between animals – the more high-quality data we have the better. We then use smart algorithms to make the best selection and mating decisions.

Our breeding program is based on extensive data capture. We measure the performance potential of each individual pig in our genetic production facilities around the world. We use both phenotypic and genotypic information from these elite animals. We collect data from our sow farms (reproductive traits), growing pig facilities (growth, efficiency and robustness traits) as well as processing plants (carcass and meat quality traits). The data from our genetic production facilities is augmented with vast amounts of commercial data from customer farms across the globe. The inclusion of this data assures that the elite animals and families that we select as the parents of future generations show robust performance across multiple environments. Lastly, we continue to expand out genetic population to increase selection intensity. Our elite genetic populations have doubled over the past five years.

Overall, our program is based on the following data

  • 19.5 million animal evaluations
  • 0.5 billion animal-EBV combinations (Estimated Breeding Values – EBV)
  • 400,000 animals with genotypes

New genetic techniques applied to this data allow PIC to more accurately select for the relevant traits. In 2012, we introduced Relationship-Based Genomic Selection (RBGS) into our PIC genetic program. RBGS has replaced the traditional pedigree-based relationship between animals in the genetic evaluation with the actual genomic-based relationship between animals. This has increased the rate of genetic progress by over 35% per year for all traits, product lines and commercial products. This rate of progress translates to a profit improvement of £1.5 to £3 per pig per year.

The next level of innovation includes genome sequencing. In November 2015, PIC embarked on a collaboration with The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh that involved sequencing the genome of PIC lines. A pig’s genome has roughly 3 billion nucleotides. With our current genomics program, we capture 50,000 locations; only a small portion of the sequence. If full sequence information is available, we will be able to improve the understanding of the genotypes that impact phenotypic traits. This will increase the selection accuracy, as well as the rate of genetic improvement. Today we have genome sequencing information for over 8,000 elite animals that is expected to help further increase selection accuracy.