Pig Genome Decoded: Genes May Explain Why Pigs Can Sniff Out Truffles But Have Poor Taste

An international team of researchers has published the most thorough genomic analysis yet conducted of the domestic pig and its wild boar counterpart.

AsianScientist (Nov. 15, 2012) – The International Swine Genome Sequencing Consortium has published the most thorough genomic analysis yet conducted of the domestic pig and its wild boar counterpart. This knowledge may help improve pork production and also aid in efforts to use the pig as a model for studying human diseases in biomedical research.

The study, published today in Nature, compared the genome of a domestic Duroc pig, Sus scrofa domesticus, with those of 10 wild boars – all from different parts of Europe and Asia. The researchers also compared the pig genome with the human, mouse, dog, horse, and cow genomes.

The team concluded that the ancestors of the domestic pig, which most resembled today’s wild boars, first emerged in Southeast Asia more than three million years ago and gradually migrated across Eurasia.

The study also provided genetic clues as to why pigs have a strong sense of smell but a poor sense of taste relative to other animals.

The researchers found that the pig genome has more unique olfactory genes than humans, mice or dogs – perhaps the reason why pigs can sniff out truffles that are found up to a meter underground.

In contrast, their sense of taste seems to be somewhat impaired.

“Pigs have a high tolerance for eating things that have a lot of salt or that we would find repulsive by taste,” said Lawrence Schook, a principal investigator on the study.

This may be explained by finding that pigs have significantly fewer bitter taste receptor genes than humans, and genes involved in perception of sweet and umami (which humans perceive as meaty) flavors are also different in pigs and humans.

The study also supports the use of pigs in studies of human diseases as gene variants implicated in human diseases like obesity, diabetes, dyslexia, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease can also be found in pigs.

The article can be found at: Groenen et al. (2012) Analyses Of Pig Genomes Provide Insight Into Porcine Demography And Evolution.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Photos: L. Brian Stauffer and Martien Groenen.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Yew Chung is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore.

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