James’ focus is on the projects to map and then sequence the genome of the domesticated pig. To that end, he combines archival research with oral interviews and insights from literature in a number of different disciplines, including history of science, philosophy of science and social studies of science.
The main concentration of his strand of the project are the European efforts to map the pig genome, PiGMaP. Funded by successive research grants from the European Commission, first under the BRIDGE programme and then the Third Framework Programme, PiGMaP was coordinated at what is now the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, and involved the work of laboratories across the European Union and the European Free Trade Area. The aims of the project were to produce genetic and physical maps of the pig genome, and also to develop the statistical and computational tools to map important quantitative trait loci (QTL). The project drew heavily on the methods pioneered in the Human Genome Mapping Project, and comparison between the genomic data gathered on the pig was regularly compared with the more considerable data on human genome.
The aim of the PiGMaP research, funded by national public sectors and commercial enterprises as well as the European Community, was to develop the genetic tools to enable improvements in livestock production. The collaboration was an example of a ‘European Laboratory Without Walls’, with sharing of data and materials between participating laboratories, and deposition of linkage data into a database based at Roslin.
The PiGMaP project liaised with an initiative of the US Department of Agriculture, and other projects including a Sino-Danish effort, and some joint maps were produced. After the main mapping activities were complete, and research continued on QTL mapping, the community internationally was developing arguments for the sequencing of the pig genome. This culminated in the sequencing of the pig genome by the Swine Genome Sequencing Consortium at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge from 2006 to 2009, with the full assembled and annotated genome being presented by way of a Nature paper in 2012. Attempts have been made to develop the pig as a biomedical model, for instance by developing tools based on the sequenced genome. These have not met with the same success that the previous mapping work did with the livestock industry.
This strand of the project will examine the translational processes, successes and challenges relating to pig genome research, and how that related to the organisation of that research, the research practices and the intellectual products and precursors of this work.
- The organisation of PiGMaP and the collaborations within it, and collaborations between European laboratories and those outside of Europe;
- The scientific and practical outcomes of the genetic and physical mapping of the pig genome, including the development of tools for the mapping of quantitative trait loci;
- The attempts to secure support for sequencing the pig genome, from the late 1990s onwards;
- The organisation of the sequencing work and its outputs;
- The attempted positioning of the pig as a biomedical model through production of sequence data.