Friday, November 16, 2012

Pig DNA unraveled, helps us cure diseases

In various animals, including humans, the DNA sequence is completely known. That means we know exactly, on average, how a genome is built up. Knowing the structure of the DNA helps us to decipher the function of individual genes as well as what it means when we find variations in genetic structures. Because we use various animals as models for human research, it is worthwhile to unravel their genomes as well. This has now been done for the pig, an animal that looks very much like us; we have already been able to harness their organs for transplantation into human beings, which means that genetic research in the pig could very well help us learn more about human disease, leading to cures.

It is not easy to uncover the full genome of a particular animal: even bacteria can have DNA sets that contain millions of building blocks, so-called bases. In fact, uncovering the full human genome took more than a decade. Nevertheless, with the publication of the pig genome, it included not one, but two distinct species. In addition to the common, domesticated pig that we already use for meat, scientists published the genome of the mini-pig, a rather cute, but also very relevant model animal that is often used in research.

After digging through all the data, the scientists, connected to institutes all over the world, noted that there is a high degree of similarity when comparing the findings to human DNA. According to the researchers, the level of homology is 84 percent. It is not as high as the 99 percent that we find when comparing ourselves with monkeys, but it does show that we share a lot of features with pigs. While there are differences, the scientists think that genetic analysis in pigs can help us explain the origins of cardiovascular diseases, but can also help explain why some people respond to drugs while others do not.

Knowing the structure of the DNA in pigs helps us uncover causes of disease. Using these animals will help us, because it means that we do not have to study everything in human beings: we can use pigs as a model, and the relevance will only increase if we gather more knowledge on the genetic origin of biological phenomena. In addition, as genetic tools continue to get cheaper, it is likely that we will unravel the genome of many more animals in the years to come.

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