CALS researchers lead international partnership to mine blood cell data for improved swine health

baby pigsWhat’s happening

The livestock industry is looking for more effective ways to measure and predict different traits in pigs, especially disease resilience. Blood samples are often used as a practical way to search for markers of disease or immunity. Blood is easily collected and can tell a lot, but blood is a very complex mixture of cells doing lots of things. To make blood useful as a test for disease resistance, scientists need to better understand the composition of cells and their numbers -- and learn what they are actually doing.

Funding from USDA-NIFA is supporting a project to accurately measure the nature of all the different types of pigs’ blood cells under varied conditions. A large bank of blood cell data will be analyzed and referenced with basic immunological data to improve understanding of the swine immune system. Researchers seek to improve the ability to link the phenotypes of blood cells (traits that can be measured) with an animal’s health status. Their goal is to develop new tools to improve swine health and refine animal genetic selection.

The project will use data from over 1,800 pigs that have been followed from weaning (about five weeks of age) to market provided by a project funded through the PigGen Canada research consortium. The project is also coordinated with the Functional Annotation of the Animal Genome (FAANG) project, and the work will continue to inform this partnership and other related efforts.


  • Christopher Tuggle, Professor, Department of Animal Science, Iowa State University
  • Jack Dekkers, Distinguished Professor of Animal Science, Iowa State University
  • Crystal Loving, USDA-Agricultural Research Service National Animal Disease Center, Ames
  • Joan Lunney, USDA-ARS Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland
  • Luke Kramer, post-doctoral fellow and computational scientist, Department of Animal Science, Iowa State University

Funders/Other Partners

  • USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
  • Genome Canada & PigGen Canada Research Consortium
  • Functional Annotation of the Animal Genome (FAANG) Project

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