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HomeFarming News‘Unique’ genomic study could save rare pig breed
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Unique’ genomic study could save rare pig breed

SRUC believe the findings of its “unique” genomic study “pave the way” to ensure the Lop pig breed’s survival.

The breed, which originated in the West Country, is one of the UK’s rarest native pig breeds.

The Lop is a white pig with distinctive lop ears that touch the end of its nose.

Researchers claim the study is the first of its kind for any UK pig breed.

Main findings:

  • Identified “Unique” genetic markers for the Lop breed;
  • Genetic diversity within the breed;
  • A high level of genomic inbreeding;
  • Also, a decrease in the Lop’s effective breeding population size to a concerning level of 40-45.

Lop pig breed 

According to Scotland’s Rural College, the findings reinforce the need for “robust” measures to tackle in-breeding and prevent any further decrease in the breeding population.

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They collected hair samples from 190 individual pigs on 40 farms to do so. Experts at SRUC analysed them to derive genome-wide genotypes for each pig.

Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), in conjunction with the British Lop Pig Society, commissioned the genome study.

The genomic study is part of a five-year project which began in 2019 as a partnership between RBST and the British Lop Pig Society, with funding from the Gerald Fallowes Discretionary Trust.

Increase genetic diversity within the lop pig breed

RBST Chief Executive, Christopher Price, said: “The Lop pig is in a perilous position.”

“It is categorised as a priority breed on the RBST watchlist due to its low numbers and concerns about genetic diversity.”

“This first-ever identification of the genetic markers of the Lop breed not only provides the basis for best animal selection for breeding programmes and for storing genetic material.”

“It also enables us to form tailored programmes to increase genetic diversity within the breed.”

“This is a really important study for the work to ensure our other rare native breeds survive too. It is the first of its kind for any pig breed native to the UK.”

He said the trust hopes it will set a template for how other rare breeds could access similar genetic data.

SRUC’s Professor Georgios Banos said the work demonstrates the British Lop pig’s “genetic uniqueness”.

“We used modern technologies and data to derive information that may be used as a practical breed purity test and inform breeding strategies aiming to safeguard the integrity of the breed.”

Study partners are now collecting embryos and semen to support the breed’s strength now and to bank genetic material in preparation for a “future crisis”.

Image: David Merrett from Daventry, England – British Lop Sow – Best of Breed

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