The National Swine Research and Resource Center has been established at the University of Missouri to serve as the world’s clearinghouse for swine genetics, according to school scientists.

The university to construct a 20,000-sq. ft. facility from which swine models will be created, stored and distributed to biomedical researchers around the globe will match a grant of $2.848 million, allocated by a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

Swine models offer new opportunities for study, says Randall Prather, chair of the University of Missouri’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology.

“Because of similarities in their body size and physiology, pigs are an ideal animal model for humans, whether a researcher is studying diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity or organ transplantation,” he observes. “In comparison to mice, their size aids with blood and tissue collection, as well as testing new medical procedures.”

For instance, conditions such as brittle bone disease can be better treated and understood with pigs. “Swine allow us to practice splinting techniques that before could only be tested with human subjects.”

“Eighty percent of the funding for the new center will be dedicated to collecting and maintaining the resource repository,” adds Lela Riley, professor in the veterinary pathobiology department. “The repository will include various genetic materials from the swine models that exist, including eggs, sperm, embryos, somatic cells and ovarian tissue.”

Each swine strain will be screened for desired genetic modification and health before being added to the repository. Strains will be reproduced using in-vitro fertilization, cloning as well as live animals kept on hand to expedite requests, explains Prather.

The remaining 20% of the center’s funding will go toward creating new genetic models and improving cryopreservation techniques and pathogen detection.

“One of the challenges will be finding better methods of preserving swine sperm, which doesn’t freeze well,” says Riley. “Ensuring the animals don’t have compromised health status that may affect research will be another key research component.”

Besides biomedical research, the genetic research applications could also be used in the future to benefit livestock production, notes Prather. “Just as we can genetically modify pigs to study disease, we can also modify them to help farmers produce higher quality hogs at less cost,” he says. “Through modification, we can make healthier pigs that resist disease, more efficient pigs that produce more muscle with less feed and pigs that are more environmentally friendly.”