A University of Guelph professor will play a key role in a new $9.8-million national research project to enhance Canada’s pork industry.

Bonnie Mallard, a pathobiology professor in the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) is part of a team that will develop genomics tools for selecting pigs able to resist multiple diseases, improving animal health and food quality and safety.

The researchers recently received funding from Genome Canada’s “Genomics and Feeding the Future” large-scale project competition.

“Professor Mallard will help to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of the pork industry, which is a vital part of Canada’s agri-food sector and economy,” said Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research).

“Her involvement in this project speaks to her track record for innovation and to U of G’s reputation for supporting research with practical applications.”

Mallard is a principal investigator and will work with project leaders Prof. Michael Dyck of the University of Alberta; Prof. John Harding of the University of Saskatchewan; and Bob Kemp, PigGen Canada in Guelph.

“I’m thrilled to be part of this large collaborative research program to investigate novel immuno-genetic approaches to improve swine health,” said Mallard, who joined OVC in 1990.

In Canada, pork is the second-most consumed meat. Canadian producers export pork to more than 100 countries.

Managing disease among pigs is one of the most costly and difficult challenges for pork producers. Besides their economic costs, diseases affect public perceptions of animal welfare, food safety and antimicrobial resistance.

Mallard said genomics offers new ways to fight disease in pigs, reducing costs for producers, increasing product quality and improving consumer perceptions.

She has developed and patented an immune response profiling tool called High Immune Response Technology (HIR ™). It uses animal genetics and immune response to breed healthier animals naturally and safety.

The test identifies animals as high, average or low immune responders to various pathogens. Farmers and breeders can use it to breed animals for better disease resistance. Consumers may benefit from products containing far fewer antibiotics and other drugs.

Currently, the technology is licensed to the Semex Alliance for use in cattle and is being successfully used to select for improved disease resistance.

“We are hoping for the same outcome in pigs, and that is the focus of our section of the Genome Canada application,” Mallard said.

Mallard will work with Guelph post-doctoral researcher Julie Schmied to test the HIR technology for a range of infectious diseases in some 3,600 commercial pigs.

Researchers expect more than $137-million worth of genetic and productivity improvements in pig production within five years of completing the project.

Previously, Mallard headed a research network funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council to develop tools and information to improve dairy health. She also studied immune response genes and proteins in breeding pigs.