Swine Reproduction and Development Program

Research in Swine Reproduction and Breeding Herd Management

The overarching goals of the program are;

  1. to improve our understanding of basic pig reproductive biology
  2. to apply this knowledge to improvements in gilt, sow and boar fertility, to better breeding herd management strategies, and to development of new reproductive technologies.

These goals are realized through focused projects funded by various granting agencies. Current activities are funded through one of the following initiatives.

ALMA – Swine Reproduction-Development Program – “Promoting Excellence in Integrated Pork Production Systems” (2006-2011)

The vision statement of the SRDP is “to be recognized as the world leader in swine reproductive biology and reproductive technology, and in the application of this expertise to provide Canadian breeding herds with the most cost-effective, yet sustainable, production practices worldwide”.

The second 5-year SRDP initiative was centered around four key strategic areas:

Regulation of embryonic and fetal development and prenatal programming: through improvements in postnatal health and survival, growth performance, nutrient utilization and meat quality, this research will achieve a 20% improvement in nutrient capture into differentiated pork products.

  • Nutritional effects on DNA methylation/demethylation during gametogenesis.
  • The role of gene imprinting in mediating nutritional effects on embryonic development.
  • Relationships between patterns of prenatal loss and muscle development of the fetus and neonate.
  • Relationships between embryonic and maternal gene expression (the transcriptome), reproductive performance of the dam, and the health, viability and fitness of offspring.
  • The role of functional nutrients in prenatal programming in swine.

Innovative research on gamete biology , directed to delivery of new and certified Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) to the swine industry, and application of this research to bio-secure and cost-effective gene transfer at all levels of swine production.

  • Optimize techniques to identify and use genetically-superior boars.
  • As part of the requirement for improved embryo transfer programs, develop standardized programs for controlling follicle development and oocyte maturation with exogenous hormones.
  • Working with new industry partners to develop innovative technologies for use in both the gilt and the lactating and weaned first parity sow, resulting in fixed-time ovulation and AI.

Collaborations with Canadian producers to address issues of sow longevity and breeding herd efficiency to develop the most sustainable, integrated and economically competitive pork production technologies in North America.

  • Expand delivery of Translational Research through collaborative projects with pork producers, building on existing technical research/consultancy agreements with established industry partners.
  • Extend technological expertise to commercialization of management technologies.
  • Continue to provide cutting-edge educational and technical training opportunities to the industry through workshops and seminars.

Positioning Alberta as a leading player in an NSERC Strategic Network in applied livestock genomics (see below).

NSERC EmbryoGENE Strategic Research Network (2008-2013)

The EmbryoGENE Network was created in order to address important issues concerning embryo development in livestock, mainly cattle and swine. This concerted pan-Canadian effort, supported by NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) and various industries partners, is devoted to understanding the genome and epigenome of the competent embryo. The Network has two research nodes: the bovine node is located at Laval University under the direction of Dr. Marc-André Sirard and the porcine node is located at the University of Alberta under the direction of Dr. George Foxcroft.

The Network aims to determine how various conditions relating to maternal nutrition, the environment of the embryo, and the application of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) influence developmental competence of the early embryo and, as a consequence, the future health and economic value of offspring derived from such embryos. The Network addresses three basic and very important questions:

  1. What defines a normal, healthy embryo at the molecular level
  2. How, and to what extent, do routine assisted reproductive technologies affect normal development?
  3. How does the metabolic state of the dam, and nutritional availability to the embryo in vivo, drive phenotypic plasticity?

Industry partnerships. Formal sponsorship agreements with industry partners are a critical part of the activities of the SRDP and EmbryoGENE programs. *Several of these agreements involved support for off-site research projects that allow R&D to be conducted in a commercial setting. Current industry partners include:

NSERC Discovery Grants

The three principal investigators in AFNS have NSERC Discovery Grant funding that supports graduate trainees and core technical positions.

The ResearchTeam

Dr. George Foxcroft, Professor, U of A
Dr. Walter Dixon, Associate Professor, U of A
Dr. Michael Dyck, Associate Professor, U of A

Dr. John Harding, Associate Professor and SRDP affiliate, WCVM, Saskatoon

Audrey Cameron, MSc Student
Sue Charlton, Conference Coordinator
Tracy Gartner, Network Manager EmbryoGENE
Dr. Jason Grant, Research Associate, Bioinformatics, EmbryoGENE
Rose O’Donoghue, Laboratory Technician
Dr. Gina Oliver, Post-Doctoral Fellow
Alex Pasternak, PhD. Student
Jenny Patterson, Research Coordinator
Miranda Smit, PhD. Student
Dr. Stephen Tsoi, Research Associate, Molecular Biology, EmbryoGENE
Joan Turchinksy, Laboratory Technician
Dr. Jamie Wilkinson, Canadian Swine Health Board, Post-Doctoral Fellow
Chi Zhou, PhD. Student