Exploring pig genetics in France

Lowe at INRAAt the end of November, I followed in the footsteps of many of the pig geneticists whose work I have been researching, and visited the Jouy-en-Josas campus of the French Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), just south of Paris. At there and other INRA sites in Paris itself, I interviewed current and retired scientists about their research, some of which dated back to the early 1960s.

Retired quantitative geneticist Louis Ollivier recalled his role in the European Commission-funded Pig Genome Mapping Project (PiGMaP) in the early 1990s, and described subsequent initiatives investigating pig biodiversity. These later projects, also funded by the European Commission, involved breeds and collaborators from across Europe, and also from China.

INRA was able to make use of Chinese breeds of pig earlier than other European or North American countries due to the importation of pigs of three different breeds in the 1970s. Work on these breeds (especially Meishan), was a crucial component of the research agenda of PiGMaP, which took advantage of the genetic differences between European and Chinese breeds by crossing them to produce genetic heterogeneity (polymorphisms) in the offspring. It was his experience in working with Chinese breeds that brought quantitative geneticist Jean-Pierre Bidanel into the work of PiGMaP, and he related the subsequent efforts to detect and map quantitative trait loci, areas of the genome linked to variation in traits of interest.

CEA-INRA facilityIn addition to research aimed at improving the precision of selective breeding of livestock, the genetics of immune response has had a long history at this INRA site, and I had the good fortune to be able to share in the experiences of three retired researchers who dedicated their careers to this. Patrick Chardon, Christine Renard and Marcel Vaiman spoke with me about their research into the Swine Leucocyte Antigen (SLA) complex, an area of the genome dense with genes associated with immune response and variation in a plethora of physiological traits. Their group’s research spanned early research into skin and bone marrow grafts, the discovery of the SLA, developing the means to map the genes of the SLA and the production of high resolution physical maps and sequences of the SLA region.

Patrick Chardon was also instrumental in the development of radiation hybrid mapping, a mapping technique that uses frequencies of the separation of genetic markers after the fragmentation of chromosomes by X-ray radiation. I was also able to speak with Denis Milan, who works at the INRA institute in Toulouse and was involved in the informatics side of the development of radiation hybrid mapping. He was also, with Patrick Chardon, instrumental in the production of DNA libraries (containing clones of DNA fragments in artificial chromosomes housed in E. coli bacteria) which later became a key input into the swine genome sequencing project.

Resource centre teamIn addition to the fascinating interviews, I was granted a tour of the INRA biological resources centre by Michèle Tixier-Boichard, assisted by her colleagues Jérôme Lecardonnel and Déborah Jardet. This is where the remaining pools of clones of the original DNA (Bacterial Artificial Chromosome - BAC) library are stored in carefully monitored freezers. The team were kind enough to show me the facilities in this building, which was also where much of the work of the Vaiman group was conducted. I had the opportunity also to speak with Laurence Colinet about the methods developed by INRA to evaluate the impact of research, as well as to present some of the findings of my research in a seminar at Jouy-en-Josas.

James Lowe

Latest Blog Posts

Exploring pig genetics in France

At the end of November, I followed in the footsteps of many of the pig geneticists whose work I have been researching, and visited the Jouy-en-Josas campus of the French Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), just south of Paris. At there and other INRA sites in Paris itself, … (Read more)

Advisory Board Meeting and Second Phase of Project

First Advisory Board meeting The TRANSGENE team presented its first findings to an Advisory Board comprised by Stephen Hilgartner (Cornell University), Robert Bud (Science Museum, London), Michel Morange (University Paris 6 and Ecole Normale Superieure), Abigail Woods (King’s College, London) and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Max Planck Institute for the History of … (Read more)

The unusual pioneer of the Human Genome Project

When we think about prime-movers, proposing for the first time the idea of scientifically tackling the human genome, the usual suspects come to our mind: reputed biomedical Nobel Prize winners such as James Watson, Walter Gilbert or Renato Dulbecco, who formulated their grand idea in the front pages of Science, … (Read more)


…at the British Society for the History of Science conference Amongst the sizeable Edinburgh contingent at the annual British Society for the History of Science conference, this year held in York, were representatives from the TRANSGENE project team. Miguel García-Sancho presented the progress on the yeast strand of the project … (Read more)

June events

The TRANSGENE project operates within the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) subject group at the University of Edinburgh. This multidisciplinary affiliation, and association with the Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation (ISSTI) research network, enables us to discuss our work with researchers that have a wide … (Read more)

Classifying people, practices and institutions

Just as classifications of species, genes, stages of development, or macromolecules can shape research in biology, classification in the humanities and social sciences can condition our analyses. In the pig strand of the project I’m working on, classifying people, practices and institutions is necessary. My aim is to explain, so … (Read more)

The yeast telomeres

Writing the history of the yeast genome project starting from the end, more precisely the chromosome ends, can be an instructive exercise. Chromosome ends (telomeres) are specialised structures essential for chromosome maintenance and genome stability. As yeast telomeres are similar in structure and function to the telomeres of the other … (Read more)

Collaborating with the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI)

In March 2017, I am conducting a three-week visiting post-doctoral fellowship at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI, Cambridge UK), for the bibliometric and “big data” strand of the project. I am collaborating with the EBI’s Literature Services to advance the project’s aims of mapping institutional networks in genomic sequencing initiatives … (Read more)

The history of pig genome research enters the matrix

In the TRANSGENE project we are committed to using approaches from different disciplines to make sense of the historical material, and to generate new data from which to form a picture of the genomic research. One of the key approaches is the use of quantitative methods, imported from the social … (Read more)

Tracing the history of European biotechnology in the HAEU

My week-long visit to the Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU) in Florence has proved to be a remarkable opportunity for investigating the ‘behind the scenes’ of European biotechnology policies in the 1980s and 1990s. During my visit in Florence I mainly examined documents available in the Gordon Adam’s … (Read more)

Scientific archives and the history of genomics

In November 2016 Miguel Garcia-Sancho, James Lowe and I attended the Workshop on Scientific Archives organised by Anne Flore-Laloë, archivist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. The meeting brought together tens of archivists from Germany, France, Switzerland, UK, US and Canada. The workshop presentations focused on best … (Read more)