Swine research in Minnesota

Home to over 3,000 hog farms, Minnesota is the second largest pork producer in the U.S.

University of Minnesota researchers are taking on today's pressing swine production challenges. From fighting common and emerging disease outbreaks to gaining a deeper understanding of how nutrition impacts swine health and reproduction, research is leading the way for more sustainable and efficient pig production across the Midwest.

Below is a sampling of ongoing MAES research projects related to swine production.

Development of a recombinant viral vectored vaccine for African swine fever
Hinh Ly
African swine fever virus (ASFV) causes an acute and fatal disease in pigs with significant economic impact. Endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, ASFV is spreading in Eurasia and has caused several outbreaks in China and its neighboring countries. There is an increasing threat of ASFV introduction into the US. No effective vaccine or therapeutics are currently available to control ASFV infection and outbreaks. The major goals of this project are to develop new ASFV candidate vaccines for testing in pigs. 

Utilization of computer vision as a means to understanding the etiology of tail biting outbreaks in growing-finishing pigs
Yuzhi Li
Tail biting causes significant welfare issues for pigs and economic losses for pork producers. This project utilizes an advanced computer vision platform (NUtrack System) to understand the complex etiology of tail biting and provide early recognition of tail biting outbreaks in pigs. Early recognition of tail biting will allow early interventions that prevent or reduce tail biting and improve health and wellbeing of pigs. The project contributes to sustainable agriculture and food systems by preventing tail biting in a way that is more animal welfare friendly than tail docking. 

Overcoming nutritional and quality barriers for increased use of corn co-products in swine diets
Gerald C Shurson
Corn distillers co-products have become major ingredients in swine diets in the U.S. and global feed industry. However, greater amounts of these co-products could be used in swine diets if key barriers for their use can be overcome. Furthermore, new production process technologies are being implemented to produce high protein corn co-products in several U.S. ethanol plants. As a result, research is needed to determine the nutritional value and optimum feeding applications of these new co-products in swine diets. This research project involves several experiments to obtain new knowledge and develop strategies to improve the use of corn co-products, specifically distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS), in swine diets. 

Genotypic characterization and replicative fitness of novel influenza reassortants in pigs
Montserrat Torremorell
Influenza is arguably one of the most significant and challenging to control swine diseases in the United States (US). Despite the difficulties US swine producers face in controlling influenza A virus (IAV), they still have enhanced IAV control as their overarching goal. The benefits will extend to public health given the zoonotic nature of IAV and the central role that pigs play in generating variants of zoonotic and pandemic potential. This research addresses two of the primary disease challenges facing the US swine industry today: 1) the ongoing expansion of IAV genetic diversity found in pigs, and 2) the varied biological characteristics of reassortants with different genetic compositions. Our studies are intended to fill a critical gap in our understanding of how novel IAVs emerge, persist, and transmit in domestic swine farm populations. The final outcome of this research is to enhance the control and prevention of influenza in animals and people. 

Manure and pasture management to reduce swine parasites in organic pastured pork production
Yuzhi Li
Managing swine intestinal parasites continues to be an obstacle for organic pig farmers because there is a lack of organically-approved options for controlling parasites. This research explores manure and pasture management strategies that would control swine parasites by reducing parasite contamination and transmission in organic pig production. We are evaluating parasite pressures on organic pig farms; determining effectiveness of manure composting on eliminating swine parasites and its underlying mechanisms; assessing a novel approach to swine parasite control in pastures via biofumigation; and determining effects of grazing rapeseed by organic pigs on reducing swine parasite contamination in pastures. By developing new measures to control swine parasites, this project is expected to support transitioning and organic pig farmers and increase the number of organic pig farmers and the number of pigs raised organically.

Additional zinc intake in late gestation increases survival of newborn pigs: An investigation into the mechanism of action    
Pedro Urriola
About a third of conceived pigs do not reach the market and it constitutes a welfare, sustainability, and economic issue. Our research shows that giving sows 5 times as much zinc as it is in their normal diet a few weeks before giving birth, increases the survival of the piglets. However, excess excretion of zinc is hard on the environment. This research is investigating the body's response to zinc and searching for molecules in the piglet and sow body that can help find more environmentally safe options for improving the survival of piglets. Our work will provide insight into the molecular mechanisms that cause zinc to enhance survival of newborn pigs and enable future development of effective and sustainable means to replace interventions that require zinc levels above nutritional requirements. 

Validation of a pan-genomic viral pathogen panel for swine
Noelle Noyes
Viral pathogens are the leading cause of swine illness and death worldwide. Control of viruses within swine herds has focused largely on the development of biosecurity and vaccination protocols to limit the introduction, persistence and spread of disease. Transmission dynamics are critical to understanding the epidemiology of these viruses, including viruses that can transmit to humans, such as Influenza A Virus. Currently, swine viral diagnostics and research applications rely on viral tests with several known limitations. The goal of this research project is to overcome these limitations by combining two relatively new technologies. First, RNA from viruses within a nasal swab will be captured using custom-designed probes; next, the captured RNA will be amplified and prepared for sequencing on a machine that can read very long stretches of RNA. By combining the capture and long-read sequencing, we are able to identify many viruses in a sample, while also reconstructing their entire genomes. This information can be used to understand basic yet hard-to-obtain information about how viruses behave within individual swine, and how it transmits between swine. This new knowledge will help swine producers and veterinarians better control viruses within swine populations, while also protecting animal, human and public health. 

Integrating hybrid rye as a winter annual crop into organic pig production
Yuzhi Li
Since feed cost can contribute 65 to 75% of the total cost of producing an organic pig, feed cost has a significant impact on profitability of organic pig farming. In addition,organic bedding, which is required for organic pig production, is rather costly due to the limited supply of organic straw in the U.S. One strategy to reduce feed and bedding cost is to integrate small grain crops into organic pig production systems. This research is evaluating how hybrid rye, as a winter annual crop, influences the environmental impacts and economic viability of organic pig production. Our goal is to develop systematic strategies for reducing feed and bedding costs and facilitate organic farmers to adopt these strategies to improve production efficiency, reduce environmental impact, and sustain organic pig production in the Upper Midwest. 

Comparative adsorption of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus strains to Minnesota soils: A pilot project
Cesar Corzo and Sagar M. Goyal  
PRRSv continues to be a burden for the swine industry with over 600M dollars in losses every year. Data from our swine health monitoring project clearly shows that the vast majority of the outbreaks occur during the fall and winter. The mechanisms by which this virus enters these herds is unclear since production practices do not change throughout the year. We believe that groundwater contamination with PRRSv is an area that is currently not being explored by ongoing research and provides an opportunity for innovative research leading to intervention strategies from a prevention standpoint. Our research is investigating if groundwater can be contaminated with viable PRRSv virus from swine manure applications to fields in the fall. We are conducting lab experiments to understand whether the virus can percolate through the soil and be captured alive upon percolation. If the virus can move through the soil and contaminate water sources, it could be a source of virus to pig farms.

Development of a system for the detection of high impact PRRSv emergent strains
Kimberly VanderWaal
The emergence and spread of new genetic variants hinders control of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV). Identifying and tracking variants in large-scale sequence databases in real-time is challenging, but necessary to generate useful and actionable insights for swine producers and practitioner stakeholders. The overarching objective of this research is to develop a PRRSV molecular surveillance platform to detect emerging genetic variants and tracking genetic diversity in the U.S. This platform could help anticipate which PRRS variants may become widespread and lead to better control of the virus and fewer outbreaks.

Commingling and diet as management interventions for microbiome recovery and AMR mitigation after antibiotic exposures    
Noelle NoyesRandall Singer and Maria Pieters   
Persistence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in livestock populations, facilities and systems is a critical challenge for U.S. producers and public health. While judicious antimicrobial use may help to decrease AMR in the long-term, new approaches are needed to mitigate persistence in the short- and medium-term. The long-term goal of this research project is to identify practical, management-based strategies to mitigate antimicrobial resistance (AMR) persistence in livestock animal populations. We are evaluating post-metaphylaxis commingling and dietary strategies to mitigate AMR in suckling and weaned pigs. These results will guide practical and evidence-based recommendations for management of swine after antibiotic exposures; and will provide a springboard for further microbiome-based AMR mitigation strategies. We’re also developing an open-source research platform with companion educational materials to promote sustained development of management-based strategies for preventing AMR.

Investigations into factors that drive the emergence of novel influenza reassortants in pigs under field conditions
Montserrat Torremorell
Influenza is arguably one of the most significant diseases in pigs. The overarching goal of this research is to understand how novel influenza viruses emerge, persist and transmit in pigs and how population dynamics and epidemiological factors affect influenza virus emergence, evolution and its control. Because viral gene reassortment is the main mechanism responsible for the emergence of novel influenza viruses responsible for infections in pigs and people, we are focused on identifying and characterizing reassortant viruses in pigs of known age, immune status and production stage. We will identify which pig populations are more likely to drive reassortment events, and whether type and level of immunity contributes to reassortment, and whether certain reassortants are more likely to persist in a population and transmit further. Ultimately, our goal is to enhance influenza control and prevent the emergence of novel viruses in pigs.