CHICAGO -- An international group of scientists has decoded the DNA of the domestic pig, research that may one day prove useful in finding new treatments for both pigs and people, and perhaps aid in efforts for a new swine flu vaccine for pigs.
Pigs and humans are similar in size and makeup, and swine are often used in human research. Scientists say they rely on pigs to study everything from obesity and heart disease to skin disorders.
"The pig is the ideal animal to look at lifestyle and health issues in the United States," said Larry Schook, a University of Illinois in Champaign biomedical science professor who led the DNA sequencing project.
Researchers announced the results of their work earlier this month at a meeting at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Britain, one of the organizations involved in the research. They'll spend the meeting discussing ways to use the new information, Schook said.
One of those ways could be the development of a swine flu vaccine for pigs to protect them from the new H1N1 virus that is spreading among people.
The U.S. Agriculture Department announced recently that six pigs from the Minnesota State Fair contracted the new H1N1 virus over the summer, the first report of pigs catching the virus in the United States. The hogs likely got it from fairgoers, officials said.
The new pandemic swine flu is spreading easily among people. It is not spread by handling or eating pork products.
Dr. Richard Gibbs, a Baylor College of Medicine researcher who wasn't involved in the pig genome project, said a lot of work remains before a vaccine for the animals could be available.
"Immune machinery are the most difficult to decipher," he said. "But this is a big step in that direction."
Schook and his team decoded the genome of a red-haired Duroc pig, one of five major breeds used in pork production worldwide. A genome is the full complement of an organism's DNA.
Researchers have unraveled the DNA of about two dozen mammals, including dogs, chimps, rats, mice, cows and people.