When George Orwell wrote in his classic novel Animal Farm that man and pig are almost identical he was closer to the truth than he realised, according to a new study.
Scientists have undertaken the largest ever study of the pig genome have found that swine are adaptable, easy to seduce with food and susceptible to domestication - much like humans. The findings, published in the journal Nature, also show that pigs suffer from the same genetic and protein malfunctions that account for many human diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and obesity.
A Duroc pig (left) and their ancestor-like cousin, a wild boar (right) as a new genetic study reveals much about their evolutionary history, sensory perceptions and similarity to humans.
With further study, a swine’s gene’s could unlock new treatments to combat these devastating illnesses, researchers said. Professor Martien Groenen, a principal investigator on the study, said: 'We identified many more gene variants implicated in human disease, further supporting the pig as a valuable biomedical model.'
The study also unlocked some of the secrets behind how humans first domesticated pigs and farmed them for food. The ancestor of the modern domestic pig first emerged in Southeast Asia and gradually migrated across Eurasia. But while truffle-hunting pigs are well known for their keen sense of smell, which allow them to sniff out the expensive delicacy, it might have been their poor sense of taste that first attracted humans to them. Pigs have far fewer bitter taste receptor genes than humans, and their perception of sweet and meaty flavours is also radically different, researchers said.
Alan Archibald, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and a principal investigator on the study, said: 'Understanding the genes that shape the characteristics of pigs can point to how and why they were domesticated by humans. 'Perhaps it was their ability to eat stuff that is unpalatable to us humans. This understanding of the genetic origins of modern pigs is important as we breed pigs to meet growing demand more efficiently and to resist old and emerging diseases.' Scientists in Scotland, America and the Netherlands conducted the groundbreaking study - the most thorough genome analysis ever of the domestic pig and its wild boar counterparts.
Their findings have important implications for agriculture as more than a billion pigs are farmed around the world each year. Unlike the domestic cow, whose ancestors are now extinct, pigs still have distant relations living in the wild. Farmers could use genes still found in wild boar to better breed domestic pigs today, researchers said. Bob Easter, one of the study’s authors, said: 'This study demonstrates the benefits of basic genomic research on agricultural animals and their closest living relatives. 'This work has important implications for agriculture, contributes to our understanding of evolution and will aid in human medicine.'
Source: Daily Mail UK