FFAR Awards $500,000 Grant to Improve Swine Health and Well-Being

Researchers at Recombinetics Will Use Advanced Breeding Techniques to Eliminate Need for Surgical Castration

 

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit established in the 2014 Farm Bill with bipartisan congressional support, awarded a $500,000 grant to Recombinetics, to use new techniques to breed swine that will eliminate the need for surgical castration, a global livestock production practice used to improve meat quality and animal health and make management easier and safer. Alternatives to surgical castration are currently limited.

Developing new alternatives to surgical castration has the potential to improve the health of millions of piglets globally, and the safety of their handlers. Additionally, this methodology has the potential to reduce production costs and impact overall sustainability.

“This project shows potential to transform the swine industry using innovative approaches to animal breeding,” said Sally Rockey, Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. “The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to support this step towards creating a more sustainable livestock industry that improves both animal well-being and productivity.”

The project team will use a genome editing methodology to breed swine that will remain in a pre-pubertal state, thus eliminating the need for surgical castration. This state will be reversible and sexual maturation can be reactivated if needed. The research team will investigate feed efficiency, meat quality and best practices for recovery of puberty and fertility.

The research is being led by Principal Investigator Tad Sonstegard, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer of Acceligen, Recombinetics’ agriculture division.

“The support provided by FFAR gives us the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate the commercial viability of pigs bred to be castration-free,” Sonstegard said. “We will do this by working closely with key industry partners to ensure the results are translated to the field and made available to the entire industry. If successful this noninvasive technique will improve product quality, animal health, and the sustainability of pork production.”

Research findings will be applicable to other genomic studies related to sexual maturity and reproduction for both animal agriculture and biomedicine.

This grant supports the FFAR Protein Challenge, which aims to enhance and improve the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of producing diverse proteins for a growing global population.

Funding for this grant came from a partnership with the Open Philanthropy Project designed to improve the welfare and productivity of egg-laying hens and commercially raised pigs. The partnership, which supports producers’ ability to adapt to a changing animal production landscape, is funded with a $1 million grant from Open Philanthropy matched by a $1 million investment from FFAR.

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