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Search for allelic variants & halplotypes associated with increased risk of the maternal aggression in sows - AW0141

The control of behaviour is a complex process involving the interaction of environment, experience and genetics. The exposure to environment and experience is influenced greatly by animal husbandry practice but predisposition to abnormal behaviour also has a substantial genetic contribution. This has been shown by mother to daughter transmission of abnormal behaviour and through the observation of differences between breeds and cross-bred populations. Maternal aggression of sows towards their offspring places some one million litters at risk in the EU. This is a major welfare and economic problem in the pig industry. Studies in a number of different animals have shown that different regions of the brain play an important role in controlling behaviour. These studies have also shown that genes that are used in these different parts of the brain are key factors in influencing these behaviours. These studies have included human, mouse, rat and sheep models. Our previous work funded by DEFRA has compared the genes used in the region of the brain called the hypothalamus in aggressive and non-aggressive sows. This has identified a number of genes that are used differently in the two groups of animals and, therefore, suggests important candidates that could be used to identify `at risk` sows. This work has also identified regions on the pig chromosomes X, 10 and 2 that are associated with maternal aggression and candidate genes mapping to these regions that may be involved in the phenotype. The current project aims to take this work forward by identifying variants of genes that potentially predispose sows to aggressive behaviour towards their newborn and to develop diagnostic markers at high density associated with pig chromosomal regions predisposing to maternal aggression. This will be done by using polymorphic variation in candidate genes and markers to examine large populations of aggressive and non-aggressive sows to establish an association between the maternal behaviour and particular variants of candidate genes or associated markers. The project will seek to employ this knowledge to devise genetic tests that can be used to identify `at risk` sows before they savage their young. The potential benefits of this work are considerable.

First, the study of these genes may identify the root cause of the behaviour and the underlying biological basis. This has the potential to inform the design of treatments that can target the behaviour.

Second, identification of versions of genes and markers that lead to aggressive behaviour will allow predictive genetic tests to be developed. This would mean that `at risk` animals could be removed from their litters immediately after birth and thus avoid piglet loss and the need to destroy aggressive sows. This clearly has both highly significant economic and welfare benefits.

Third, causitve genes identified in pig studies may be useful in unraveling the key genes in equivalent human disorders.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2010

Cost: £390,565
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University - Cambridge
Animal Welfare              
Plants and Animals              
Fields of Study
Animal Welfare