Corn may fight TGE in pigs

Connie Pettinger

Current corn research at Iowa State might provide hog producers with a new weapon in fighting disease in their herds.

Kan Wang, scientist in the agronomy department, is currently working to develop genetically modified corn that, when fed to sows prior to farrowing, will prevent transmissible gastroenteritis in baby pigs.

Wang said TGE is a serious disease that causes diarrhea in baby pigs. The disease usually has a 100 percent mortality rate in infected pigs, she said.

Wang said hog producers currently inject sows with a live virus prior to farrowing to form antibodies in the sow’s milk and prevent TGE. “A live virus has a degree of risk of causing the disease, so it can’t be given directly to pigs,” she said.

Wang said researchers targeted this particular disease in their research for a couple of reasons.

“First, we had to identify a disease where an oral immune system stimulator is the best prevention system,” she said. She said this kind of treatment would not be effective in a disease that required an injection.

Ron Wesley, scientist with the National Animal Disease Center, said the feeding approach is good for the type of infection that infests the lining of the small intestine. He said the TGE virus infects cells at the lining of the stomach.

Wang said they also researched TGE because it has been widely researched, and they wanted to add to the data.”This is a disease that is very well-studied, but no effective vaccination is available,” she said. “We don’t want to go into an area where no one understands anything. We want to be able to utilize the knowledge.”

Wang said she chose to use corn for her research because it can be fed uncooked. She said cooking would alter or destroy the effect of the gene causing immunity to the disease.

Southwest Iowa farmer Fred Boswell of Corning said his main concern with the research is its long-term protection against TGE. “The key in anything a farmer will look at is whether it works and continues to work over the long term,” he said.

Prem Paul, associate vice provost for research at Iowa State, said there are long-range benefits to be gained from her research.

“It is important for other diseases in other livestock if the system can be developed,” he said.