The findings could help the country reduce the impact of PRRS, a disease costing the pork industry an estimated $664m a year.
Lisa Becton, director of swine health and information at Pork Checkoff, which funded the research, said: “PRRS is one of the industry’s top ongoing issues, so this research discovery is a major step in the right direction. Pork producers realise that supporting science-based research is not an overnight proposition. It’s especially gratifying to achieve results like this and to envision how they can be implemented at the farm level.”
The genetic marker, called ‘quantitative trait locus’, is located on swine chromosome 4 that is linked with both resistance to PRRS infection and weight gain. Joan Lunney, a research scientist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), said the results indicated a positive effect for PRRS resistance and improved growth of pigs infected.
The discovery could mark a change in pig breeding, as producers could soon be able to introduce PRRS-resistant lines into their herds. “This could be one of the tools used to help eliminate PRRS, but more importantly, this work may provide the platform for finding similar marker genes responsible for conveying resistance to other economically devastating diseases,” said Pork Checkoff director of animal science Chris Hostetler.
The team, composed of scientists from ARS, Iowa State University and Kansas University, collected blood and tissue samples and weight-gain data from 2,000 pigs. They are now working to pinpoint the gene and find whether it shows the same effects for other strains of the PRRS virus.