Pig Genome

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.

Latest Blog Posts

The future of sustainable food production?

On July 18th, I attended a horizon-scanning workshop on food sustainability hosted by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. The aim of the meeting was to scope out the challenges facing food sustainability over the medium and long-term, and to examine what biological research and innovation is being conducted to try … (Read more)

The Canadian chapter of the history of human genomics

Miguel Garcia-Sancho, PI of the TRANSGENE project and lead investigator of the human genome strand, visited Toronto and Montreal last April to conduct historical research and participate in an interdisciplinary workshop on medical innovation. He visited the archives of the University of Toronto Hospital for Sick Children and conducted oral … (Read more)

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)